Saturday, June 28, 2008

Drop in automobile use and increase in transit ridership offers new opportunities

The US Dept. of Transportation put out a press release on the recent decline in vehicle miles traveled on US Highways that should make us all consider how we in Charlottesville should be investing our limited transportation dollars. I might question the Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, notion that we now need to finde new revenue sources for highways, but I would agree that we need to invest more in transit programs nationwide - and even moreso in Charlottesville area. Even at 14 miles per gallon, a reduction of 1.4 billion highway miles results in saving 100 million gallons of highway fuel saved compared in April 2008 compared to April 2007.

In Charlottesville, the millions of dollars available for transportation might be much better spent in expanding transit options compared to building projects such as the Meadow Creek Parkway, the McIntire Road Extended, or the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road. With reducing highway traffic demand, and rising transit usage, now is not too soon to refocus our investment strategy toward public transportation, and enhancing pedestrian and bicycle options.

Below is the press release from the US DOT. If a six-month decline is not a trend, then I am not sure what is. Join me in challenging our city and county decision makers to look at how much reprogramming can be achieved in the very near future. Virginia is not making sufficient funding available to build our way out of our transportation challenges through highway construction alone. I believe investments in transit and other not highway construction solutions is where we need to be moving.

DOT 84-08
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Contact: Doug Hecox
Tel.: (202) 366-0660

Americans Drove 1.4 Billion Fewer Highway Miles in April of 2008 than in April 2007 While Fuel Prices and Transit Ridership Are Both on the Rise
Sixth Month of Declining Vehicle Miles Traveled Signals Need to Find New Revenue Sources for Highway and Transit Programs, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters Says

WASHINGTON – At a time of record-high gas prices and a corresponding surge in transit ridership, Americans are driving less for the sixth month in a row, highlighting the need to find a more sustainable and effective way to fund highway construction and maintenance, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

The Secretary said that Americans drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than at the same time a year earlier and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. She added that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all public roads for April 2008 fell 1.8 percent as compared with April 2007 travel. This marks a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November.

“We’re burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns, steer people toward more fuel efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit. Which is exactly why we need a more effective funding source than the gas tax,” Secretary Peters said.

The Secretary said as Americans drive less, the federal Highway Trust Fund receives less revenue from gasoline and diesel sales – 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively.

The Secretary noted that data show midsize SUV sales were down last month 38 percent over May of last year; car sales, which had accounted for less than half of the industry volume in 2007, rose to 57 percent in May. She said past trends have shown Americans will continue to drive despite high gas prices, but will drive more fuel efficient vehicles consuming less fuel. “History shows that we’re going to continue to see congested roads while gas tax revenues decline even further,” she said.

“As positive as any move toward greater fuel efficiency is, we need to make sure we have the kind of sustainable funding measures in place to support needed highway and transit improvements well into the future,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray.

To review the FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” reports, including that of April 2008, visit


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Solar Power Options

In the spirit of becoming a more sustainable city and reducing our carbon footprint, perhaps Charlottesville can learn from other university cities and take some bold energy policy actions. The city of Marburg Germany has taken just such a step. Check out this story I found on an international newsite ( and searched out an English language write-up to share.

So, here it is.

Marburg makes solar power mandatory

Published: 21 Jun 08 10:57 CET

The Hessian town of Marburg has decided to make the installation of solar panels compulsory on all new buildings, and any older ones which are renovated or altered.

The radical move was decided on Friday by the Social Democrats and Greens which command a majority of seats in the town council.

It takes the 79,000-head town way in front of most other areas in the country – anyone who fails to fit a solar panel on their roof when building or altering their house, could be fined €1,000.

Generally such rules are only applied to new buildings, but in Marburg, the only opt-out will be if a building is being fuelled by other renewable energy.

A share of the costs will be met by state money, while heating bills will be but once the solar panels are installed and working.

"It's all well and good when you tighten up the rules for new buildings. But the most energy is used in older buildings," Marburg Mayor Franz Kahle told the Associated Press.

The German government is committed to trying to meet 14 percent of all energy needs with renewables by 2020.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

When is a concept a final design?

When is a concept a final design? Apparently when you are on Charlottesville's staff and wanting to move forward granting an easement to VDOT to build the McIntire Road Extended.

At the May 5, 2008 city council meeting, a resolution was passed that reads in part "that this Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design" for the McIntire Road Extended project. But, at the May 21, 2008 Metropolitan Planning Organization this approval of concept was misrepresented as an approval of a final design for storm water management by the city's VDOT liaison, Jeanette Janiczek (in response to my comment to the MPO that no such design had been approved, but only a concept for storm water management). Then, at the city council work session on May 4, 2008 on the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project [advertised as the McIntire Road Extended Interchange project], City Manager Gary O'Connell stated that the resolution passed by council on May 5,2008 was an approval of a storm water plan - not a concept and that the condition included in the October 1, 2007 resolution by city council regarding storm water planning was thus satisfied. O'Connell went on to suggest that all of the three conditions of the October 1, 2007 resolution could be satisfied within a month or so and the easement letter could be legitimately signed. I beg to differ!

What is the condition that needs to be met?

The relevant - and exact- wording included in the resolution passed by city council on October 1, 2007 is as below in italics:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia that this Council hereby authorizes the City Manager to sign the following document, in form approved by the City Attorney, upon (1) certification from the Virginia Department of Transportation that the Commonwealth has acquired title to or a permanent easement over 49.1 acres of real property that will be dedicated for use by the City as replacement park land; (2) review and approval by City Council of the final design of the storm water drainage plan; and (3) written confirmation from the Virginia Department of Transportation that this temporary construction easement will not be used to construct an at-grade intersection at the intersection of U.S. Route 250 Bypass and McIntire Road Extended:

Agreement between the City of Charlottesville, as "Grantor" and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as "Grantee", granting a temporary construction easement across and through McIntire Park for construction of McIntire Road Extended, and related utility and drainage work.

NOTE: the draft agreement is available online as page 29 of the October 1, 2007 city council agenda packet .pdf file.

So, what is the big deal?

Mayor Norris asked Ms. Janiczek at the May 5, 2008 meeting prior to the vote on the storm water management resolution given below if it was true that the vote was for just the concept, and not a storm water plan - to which Ms. Janiczek said yes. This being clarified, the vote was taken and the resolution given below in its entirety was passed.

It is my understanding, and apparently the mayor's understanding, that a final storm water management plan (including Best Management Practices) would need to be developed before the construction easement to VDOT would be brought back to council for final approval in compliance with the October 1, 2007 council resolution. Although no further action was taken, our city manager now believes that the condition is met.

Below is the complete resolution of May 5, 2008 passed by city council. Given that no final storm water design plan was even supplied to city council prior to the May 5, 2008 meeting, and the clear statement is included that "Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design" rather than approving "the final design of the storm water drainage plan" as required indicates that council needs to be provided a final plan for its consideration and approval prior to the city manager signing any easement agreement.


WHEREAS, a committee (composed of City staff, VDOT representatives, landscape
professionals, etc.) was appointed by City Council to evaluate the design of storm water
management facilities for the McIntire Road Extended project; and

WHEREAS, the committee has submitted its recommendation for the design of storm water management facilities which will best blend with the natural contour and landscaping of McIntire
Park, with an emphasis on rain gardens; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, that this Council hereby approves in concept the storm water management design shown on the attached two (2) drawings (Concept Plan and Concept Perspective) by Land Planning & Design Associates,
dated May 5, 2008.

Approved by council
May 5, 2008

Clerk of City Council

I don't believe the city staff is providing good service to city council members when reinterpreting council approved resolutions and confusing the status of ongoing issues as is the case here. Is it the role of the staff and our city manager to push projects forward prematurely? I communicated my concern about this misinformation, but they do not seem to be concerned enough to review the text of the resolutions already passed. One concern I expressed several years ago to council was that our city staff couldn't attract or sustain sufficient expertise to manage complex transportation development projects under the then proposed First Cities of Virginia agreements. I believe that staff is now demonstrating that this expertise is not currently available and the First Cities of Virginia agreement might be worth revisiting.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What is in a Name? Confusion!

I received the following notice from the City by email about an upcoming City Council work session. Some will say that this is a project that has been going on for a long time - others (including me) say they have never heard of the "McIntire Road Extended Interchange" project. What is up?


ON Wednesday, June 4, 2008

AT 5:00 p.m. IN THE “City Space”
in the Charlottesville Community Design Center
100 5th Street, S.E.
(downtown mall side of the Market Street Parking Garage
formerly the Visitors Center)


Work Session: McIntire Road Extended Interchange


BY: Jeanne Cox

DATE: May 29, 2008

I don't believe there is any intention on the part of the city to obfuscate that this is to be a work session about the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project, but inventing new names on announcements is not a good idea and does add greatly to the alreadly confused sea of names associated with a transportation project proposed to connect McIntire Road (at the intersection with Route 250 Bypass) to Rio Road.

This project has been referred in city, county, or VDOT documents in its entirety (Route 250 Byapass to Rio Road) as:

(1) McIntire Parkway,
(2) McIntire Road Extended,
(3) Meadowcreek Parkway,

as two independent component projects:

(4) McIntire Road Extended (from Route 250 Bypass to Melbourne Road); and Meadow Creek Parkway (from Melbourne Road to Rio Road)

and as three independent component projects:

(5) Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road (from Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road to approx. 775 feet north of Route 250 Bypass), McIntire Road Extended (from approx. 775 feet north of Route 250 Bypass to Melbourne Road), and Meadow Creek Parkway (from Melbourne Road to Rio Road).

To add to the confusion, the federal legislation providing earmark totaling $27 Million refers to the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road as the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange.

Now, we have yet a new name introduced as McIntire Road Extended Interchange.

Is anybody paying any attention to this at all?

I attended the May 2008 Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Board meeting and recommended during the 'matters from the public' period that it would be desirable to present information on this (or these) project(s) using current official names so it is clear what information goes with what project. I also recommended that some key misrepresentations in the MPO "Project Status Matrix" also be corrected. To my surprise, Jeanette Janiczek from the city staff reinforced incorrect information and MPO chair David Slutzky supported using unofficial names for projects (in particular using the long changed name Meadowcreek Parkway for the combined McIntire Road Extended and Meadow Creek Parkway projects although this is different from what used to be called the Meadowcreek Parkway prior to initiating an interchange project and now with different project limits on the McIntire Road Extended).


I know I am and I would add disappointed to that. How can an interested citizen get information about the current state of a project when the status report is flawed, and one would have to search under a broad range of different official and unofficial names online in an attempt to find information (hopefully correct) through online sources.

The confusion is not limited to the project names. There has also been a series of easement ordinances and council resolutions passed that put conditions on use of right of way, replacement parkland, design features, operation requirements, and other transportation improvements being required prior to even constructing these facilities. Although these projects are adamantly considered independent of each other for political reasons, they are so intimately connected through these conditions.

I along with several other involved citizens have been following and commenting on these issues for years with some success in clarifying what is happening. Unfortunately the key decisionmakers at the city, county, MPO, and state levels don't seem to mind perpetuating the evergrowing confusion.

What to do?

Check out what is happening on these projects. Do a Google or other search under the various project names and see what you find. Contact your councilors or supervisors to find out what is happening. Share your thoughts with city, county, and VDOT staff. And, visit this blog to follow whatever it is that I can report that will help you understand what the facts are about the project and the processes being followed by various groups pushing this project forward - no matter what they call it. I also encourage you to browse my previous postings on this project to get some added background on what has gone before. Enjoy the ride.