Saturday, February 23, 2008

Protecting our Historic Resources

The third meeting of the Section 106 Consulting Parties meeting is to happen at the Albemarle County Office Building -- Room 235 -- on February 26. And THE PUBLIC CAN ATTEND. You won't likely have any opportunity to participate in the meeting, but if you are concerned about the impacts of major highway projects on our historic and cultural resources, I urge you to attend, learn, and share your idea by writing to our federal, state, and local project planners or share your ideas and concerns on blogs (like here), in letters to the editor, before city council and elsewhere.

Section 106 refers to the section of the National Historic Preservation Act that relates to preservation of historic and cultural resources. If you are interested in this subject, do check out the implementing regulations at 36 CFR Part 800 in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation.

Angela Tucker at the Charlottesville Department of Neighborhood Services is the coordinator for these meetings. If you wish to get some of the background material or other information about this Section 106 process I recommend you contact her. Some background materials are currently available on the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project website.

Below is the draft agenda that has been distributed to members of the committee. Meetings have been about 2 hours or so.

February 26th, 2008 @ 1:00 PM


Albemarle County Office Building- McIntire, Room 235
401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA


1. Review of Last Meeting
• Minutes and Comments
• Eligibility
• Letter to VDHR February 8, 2008

2. Avoidance and Minimization Alternatives
• Review of Alternatives discussed at last meeting
• Section 4(f) Alternatives
• One Way Pair
• Split Interchange
• Transportation System Management (TSM)
• Section 4(f) Avoidance Alternatives (as presented in the Environmental Assessment)
• Discussion

3. Effects Discussion
• Historic Characteristics
• Criteria of Adverse Effect

4. Next Steps- Path Forward

Materials Distributed:
1. Minutes from January 10, 2008 Meeting
2. Project Team’s Response to Comments
3. Alternatives Mapping
- Brief description, figure, and preliminary feasibility analysis of each alternative
4. Historic Significance Findings
5. Letter from City of Charlottesville to VDHR, February 6, 2008
6. Letter from FHWA to VDHR, February 15, 2008

NOTE: Distributed to consulting parties by email on February 19, 2008.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Charlottesville Budget Busting

There is a line item in the Charlottesville Budget that shows $40,000 for the Meadow Creek Parkway as a 2-percent match for state or federal funds. It is confusing in that the Meadow Creek Parkway is a project in Albemarle County. McIntire Road Extended or the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road are related road projects in the city that it likely should refer to. In itself, this isn't a budget buster, but at the February 19, 2008 City Council Meeting, council approved spending up to $1 million to match dollar for dollar available VDOT funds for road project use. Some of this money is likely to provide more funding above the already $29 million being spent on the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project. The just approved matching money is thus a 100-percent match. So, an additional $2 million dollars for the interchange could cost the city $1 million. This is significantly more than the line item in the budget that provides (using the 2-percent match) just over $2 million for a cost to the city of $40,000.

How much are we in the city willing to spend to keep the Meadow Creek Parkway or McIntire Road Extended or the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road alive? Who is likely to benefit from these very expensive projects that seem to offer little improvement in our transportation network but will add significantly to traffic congestion in already congested parts of the city, add significantly to pollution of our air and water resources, and spend scarce city dollars that could be (in my opinion at least) in meeting pressing needs in our community relating to transit, affordable housing, education, safety, social services, etc.

As the estimated costs of these large road projects continue to grow, I wonder how many more of our budget dollars will be put into pavement that will provide value much less than if these dollars were programmed elsewhere in our budget. Sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes not.

MPO podcast now available

If you missed the comment to the previous post, the audio of the Feb. 20, 2008 MPO meeting is now available online. Hear the conversation and read a summary of the discussions at the Charlottesville Tomorrow weblog.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Metropolitan Planning Organization contemplates giving project prioritization back to VDOT

I attended the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) policy board meeting on Wednesday Feb. 20, 2008 to hear the discussion under the agenda heading "STIP/TIP/SYP Unifying the System Investment Process (USIP) Update." Here the STIP is the State Transportation Improvement Program; TIP is the local MPO's Transportation Improvement Program; and SYP is the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Six Year Plan. These are all funding documents that determine which transportation projects have funding and can move forward within the next few years. [See agenda summary material here].

I was disappointed to see that VDOT is proposing to develop their STIP prior to providing sufficient funding and other information to the local MPOs thereby making decisions about which local transportation projects will be moved forward before the priorities of the local MPOs (locally that is the Charlottesville and the urbanized portion of Albemarle County transportation projects). The VDOT proposal is part of an effort to streamline the process of utilizing Federal-aid Highway funds through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Unfortunately, this also essentially removes the public from setting local transportation project priorities. It also puts the MPO policy board in a position of objecting to VDOT's priorities rather than being the body that sets local priorities and requests that VDOT fund projects accordingly.

I see this VDOT proposal as a return to centralized transportation planning in Richmond with local MPO's having little if any influence in setting and ultimately meeting our local transportation priorities. I will urge our local MPO voting members (Dennis Rooker and David Slutzky from Albemarle Board of Supervisors; Julian Taliaferro and Satyendra Huja from Charlottesville City Council) not to approve the proposed process until it is clear that our MPO and the public they represent have significant input into setting local transportation priorities. The current fiscal year MPO budget is about $435,000 for its planning and research efforts in identifying and promoting solutions to our transportation needs. If the MPO and public have little say in what will be done, what is the purpose of investing this much money in planning at the MPO?

Charlottesville Tomorrow recorded the meeting. If you are as concerned about this loss of local decision making authority to the Commonwealth that is being promoted as I am, I hope you will listen to the podcast when it is posted on the Charlottesville Tomorrow website and let your city and/or county representatives know your thoughts on this matter. If we don't speak up now for local prioritization of our federal and state transportation investments, we may not have any meaningful say about priorities or project funding decisions in the future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yes, we need to bring transit (BRT or Light Rail) to our community

Seth Rosen asks in the Feb. 18, 2008 Daily Progress article the "$138 million question: Is high-tech bus system worth the price tag?" Rosen reports that many of our local elected officials "are skeptical that a bus rapid transit system would accomplish what its advocates predict. And the $138 million price tag would be a staggering sum for a community of this size". Benefits anticipated from the transit option expect reduced travel time between downtown, the university, U.S. Route 29, and to the airport. This would also be consistent with city council's goals of reducing the use of single-occupancy automobiles, reducing emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, and enhancing transportation options for residents of and visitors to our region. But, is $138 million too much to invest in our transportation future? Charlottesville and Albemarle County continue to pursue the idea of building the proposed Meadow Creek Parkway. The current cost estimate for the city portion (McIntire Road Extended through McIntire Park), the county portion (Meadow Creek Parkway from Melbourne Road to Rio Road), and the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road totals $69 million dollars. This is the sum of cost estimates our local Metropolitan Planning Organizations long range plan document being considered at tomorrow's MPO meeting. The $69 million - half of the cost of the high-tech bus system - buys us little if anything in the way of congestion relief, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, or enhanced transportation options. In fact, the parkway project appears to be counter to meeting council's stated goals. In addition, the parkway would have significant impacts on McIntire Park, Bailey Park, and several historic sites eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The actual cost for the parkway option will likely be higher than the $69 million given that emerging cost estimates for the interchange alone are typically above the current listed cost.

I prefer our region consider seriously investing in transit (considering both BRT and light-rail options) and reprogramming the funds allocated to the Meadow Creek Parkway project to support transit development to the extent possible. I believe a regional investment of $138 million for transit will be a much better investment than the $69+ million dollars currently programmed for a project with little to offer in solving our long-term regional transportation problems.

Note: Image from

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dedicated Funding - Transit - YES; Affordable Housing - NO

Seth Rosen's Feb. 12, 2008 article "City, county agree to form transit authority" suggest that city councilors are ready to establish a dedicated source of revenue for transit management, planning, and operation through some new taxes or fees. I am curious if the former mayors of Charlottesville who opposed establishing a dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing at the February 4, 2008 public hearing on that issue at city council will show up in opposition to establishing dedicated revenue for transit. Former mayors Caravati and Vandever and current councilors Brown, Huja and Taliaferro opposed the concept of establishing dedicated revenue and promoted keeping funding decisions in the annual budget process. If this is truly their concern, I hope we will be hearing similar concerns expressed by these former mayors and current councilors at the February 18, 2008 council meeting. Both transit expansion and affordable housing are priority issues for Charlottesville. Shouldn't the options for generating funding be consistent?

If you are not familiar with the affordable housing discussion of February 4, check out Seth Rosen's February 5, 2008 article "More than 125 city residents back housing relief."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mountaintop Removal: Could it happen here?

With all the recent news about Dominion Virginia Power's quest to get a coal-fired power plant licensed in Wise County, and their commitment to use local Virginia coal mined using mountaintop removal methods, I thought of what it might be like if we had mountaintop removal done locally. After searching the web for inspirational images I thought the following sequence of three photos might get us all thinking about the problems mountaintop removal brings to wherever it is done. Do you suppose there is some coal in Monticello Mountain? Is this going to become part of the Central Virginia landscape?

Perhaps we all need to let the Virginia Corporation Commission know how we feel about promoting mountaintop removal in Wise County. This can't be good for tourists (or virtually any other living thing). There is a public hearing on this topic scheduled in Richmond at 5:00 pm on Tuesday February 19, 2008. Apparently there will be vanpools to take folks from Charlottesville to comment at the hearing. Stay tuned for details.

Photo Sources:
1. Amy Sancetta, Associated Press