March 21, 2023: Bids for Buford Middle School renovation are in; Charlottesville reforming transportation planning
Plus: An arrest has been made in Saturday's homicide on Elliewood Avenue
It has now been a day since the spring has sprung, and the time is fading when the word “vernal” can be used to express the current time. But the new season is now with us and the days shall grow longer until the solstice. No matter what position we may happen to be in, this is Charlottesville Community Engagement and there is no shortage of items to track. I’m Sean Tubbs, constantly looking for new ways to navigate.
On today’s show:
An arrest has been made in connection with a Saturday morning murder on the Corner in Charlottesville
Bids have come in for the renovation of Buford Middle School in Charlottesville
Charlottesville’s new transportation planning manager outlines a new process for prioritizing projects
Details on major transportation projects coming up at major intersections across Albemarle and Charlottesville
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First shout-out: Charlottesville Community Bikes
In this first subscriber supported shout-out, Charlottesville Community Bikes believes that bicycles can be a means to social change, addressing issues of equity, access, and inclusion. They provide free bikes to adults who need one, and have a special program that provides free bikes to children. But they also provide information some in the community may need! That includes a weekly series on Bike Mechanics 101 beginning on April 13. Learn more at charlottesvillecommunitybikes.org Want to learn more or support their work? Charlottesville Community Bikes currently is seeking matching funds for a grant from the Outride Fund. Visit charlottesvillecommunitybikes.org to learn more.
Arrest made in Elliewood Avenue homicide
The Charlottesville Police Department has arrested a Charlottesville man in connection with an early morning murder this past Saturday. According to a press release, detectives carried out search warrants in both Albemarle County and Charlottesville yesterday and took 21-year-old Lakori Brooks into custody.
Brooks has been charged with second degree murder and the use of a firearm in the killing of Cody Brian Smith in a parking lot on Elliewood Avenue at around 2:30 a.m.
Charlottesville’s Commonwealth’s Attorney had this note on his Facebook page after the arrest was announced.
“While tragedy continues to visit our community, I'd like to note the tireless work of the CPD in bringing the last 5 homicide cases to closure by arrest,” said Joe Platania said. “Charged individuals are presumed innocent. But please recognize the almost unprecedented level of thorough and professional police work that is going on under the leadership of Chief Kochis and his team.”
Bids are in for Buford Middle School project
The City of Charlottesville has received three bids from construction firms who want to work on the renovation of Buford Middle School, two of which have base prices below the planned budget of around $78 million.
However, all three are above that budgeted amount when their prices for four additional items are factored in. This leaves lots of options for the city moving forward.
“We will be working with the Budget Office to lay out a set of options, including what additive bid items the City may want to purchase, which were included in the bid package,” said Michael Goddard, Charlottesville’s facilities development manager.
Nielsen Builders submitted a base bid of $71,414,146 and Branch Builders submitted one of $73,849,000. The base bid from Cleveland Construction would be at $78,252,000.
Four “additive bid items” were separated out of the main project out of concerns that the entire project would be over budget. These options are:
Additive item #1 - Parking, Play Courts, and Walking Track west of the loop road
Additive item #2 - Area F renovation area and addition to auditorium building
Additive item #3 - Dining Terrace
Additive item #4 - Garden
Nielsen Builders’ bid with the additive items comes to $79,237,646.
The total bid from Branch Builds is over $8.59 million and the total bid from Cleveland Construction came in at $8.783 million.
Charlottesville’s new transportation planner briefs Council on future process
Charlottesville is a community in transition with growth on many people’s minds as a new zoning code is written to allow a lot more places to live. The city government has also struggled in recent years to deliver transportation projects on time. At their work session on March 6, City Council met the new transportation planning manager hired last year.
“So I’m giving an update on transportation planning and I don’t think you’ve had one of these for a very long time,” said Ben Chambers.
Chambers previously worked for the city in pupil transportation and is now charged with restoring the city’s ability to actually build infrastructure after spending many years on various plans and securing funding. Last year, Council terminated the West Main Streetscape and intersection improvements at Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue. Both had been fully funded but the city lacked capacity to manage the projects.
Charlottesville will be reviewing how it works with VDOT, April 8, 2022
Charlottesville officials recommend steps to “reboot” transportation project management in the city to avoid losing out on future funds, May 29, 2022
City officially cancels West Main Streetscape project, June 10, 2022
CTB briefed on cancellation of Charlottesville Smart Scale projects, September 22, 2022
NDS: Extent of design work for Stribling Avenue sidewalk improvements not known, September 30, 2022
Charlottesville infrastructure updates: Sanders seeks more time to help city build back capacity, December 6, 2022
One of Chambers’ first steps was to look back and see how well the city has planned in recent years. He said there was an incomplete picture.
“A lot of the planning activities are happening in different silos in different departments throughout the city,” Chambers said. “So you have public works and engineer doing some of the work, you have [the Department of Neighborhood Development Services] doing some of the work, you have [Charlottesville Area Transit] doing some work. They are all broken out into their own little silos and not necessarily communicating together and putting together a comprehensive planning strategy.”
Chambers said there are several conflicting transportation plans as opposed to one overarching master plan. He said such a plan needs to be updated on a continuous basis. In contrast, the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan was adopted in 2015 but has not had a significant update.
The presentation gave an opportunity for Chambers to provide an update on many ongoing studies.
Charlottesville Area Transit Alternative Fuels Study: “Is it feasible for CAT to switch from diesel to another fuel of some sort, preferably one with zero emissions?” Chambers asked. There will be stakeholder outreach in April and the study should be ready in May for Council review and a potential decision in the summer.
Dockless Mobility Program: Chambers said VEO is the sole holder of a permit to provide scooters and e-bikes. This program had been overseen by the Bike Pedestrian Coordinator, a position that has been vacant for over two years. Chambers has taken on the role of negotiation with VEO on a new contract. The city may begin charging a fee for misplaced vehicles as well as a pilot project for parking hubs beginning with West Main Street. Negotiations over fee changes and other contract changes are on-going.
Safe Streets and Roads 4 All program: The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission recently secured around $867,000 to coordinate a study that is a precursor to receiving federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. That includes Charlottesville. Chambers said the city’s section will include more information on community engagement, bike & pedestrian infrastructure, and transit.
Chambers also discussed how infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians is planned and prioritized. Right now, there are multiple documents including small area plans.
“The priorities in these plans don’t account for staffing challenges,” Chambers said. “They are very optimistic about what they think the city can accomplish. I think if you look back at the 2015 bike-ped master plan or the 2016 Streets That Work plan, they said that we were going to do a lot of stuff that we didn’t get done.”
Chambers said the city is working with the Virginia Secretary of Transportation on a plan to reassess various transportation projects. One thing the city wants to do going forward is continue painting of “sharrows” on roadways, but to no longer think of these as infrastructure projects.
“It’s not a protected bike lane, it’s not even a bike lane, it’s a ‘bike is going to in the middle of the road with you, pay attention,’” Chamber said. “We’re splitting those out separately as not projects in our prioritized list because we kind of just want those to be automatic.”
The idea is to develop a list of priorities that can be developed internally while funding sources are identified. Chambers didn’t say so, but this is similar to an approach that Albemarle County uses. (Albemarle transportation quarterly report, October 2022)
City Councilor Brian Pinkston said he appreciates that development.
“I think many people feel like it’s just a mystery and so having a list and having priorities, even if a person may not like precisely the way the priority is laid out, knowing it’s there and being thought about will make a huge difference,” Pinkston said.
Chambers said stakeholder engagement on the draft priority list will begin this spring and Council will get to have their review in the summer.
Watch the entire presentation for all of the details.
Second shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign
Since the very beginning of this newsletter, one Patreon supporter who has been there since July 2020 has used his shout-out to draw your attention to the work of the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign. The campaign is a coalition of grassroots partners including motivated citizens and volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. It is spring and now is the time to learn about what you need to plan to attract pollinators who’ll keep native species going. To learn more, visit plantvirginianatives.org to download Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens.
Closed-door body updated on more details on transportation projects
Work on U.S. 29 / Hydraulic Road intersection to begin later this year
In the last edition of this newsletter, I provided more detail about several projects under construction at the University of Virginia. There are many different silos of information, and part of the mission of this newsletter is to provide more context as I try to put the pieces together. Take a look back at one of the segments for more detail.
One of those silos is the Land Use & Environmental Planning Committee, a closed-door body made up of planning staff from Albemarle County, Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. While the meetings are not available to review, the minutes take the form of presentation that are made publicly available.
On February 17, 2023, the Virginia Department of Transportation gave an update on several projects that have not yet been before elected officials. Here’s what I can share from the presentation (view the presentation):
A fully-funded project to alter the intersection of Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 is moving forward with multiple elements. One of the changes will be the elimination of left hand turn lanes from Hydraulic Road onto both northbound and southbound U.S. 29. There will also be the addition of an at-grade pedestrian crossing across U.S. 29 that will take two phases to cross.
This will also include a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 29 to connect Stonefield in Albemarle County with the outparcels of Seminole Square Shopping Center in Charlottesville.
The intersection of Hillsdale Drive and Hydraulic Road will be converted into a roundabout, which will require it to be closed for up to 46 days. The roundabout must be completed before those left turns mentioned above are eliminated.
A shared use path will be extended from U.S. 250 along Hydraulic Road to Brandywine Drive, with improvements to be made at that intersection and Michie Drive.
The budget for this project is $28,254,264 and the project has gone out to bid. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to make an award on April 19. A notice to proceed will go out on May 23 with anticipated completion in December 2025.
Three roundabout projects to get underway in Albemarle
Albemarle County has received funding to convert three more intersections to roundabouts. In the past year, roundabouts have opened at the intersections of both Route 20 and Proffit Road and U.S. 250 and Route 151. VDOT will advertise all three under one package.
The traffic signal at Route 53 at Route 20 would be converted to a roundabout, with a new sidewalk on the western side. There would be a shared use path from the roundabout to the trailhead of the Saunders-Monticello Trail.
The intersection of the John Warner Parkway with Rio Road East will also become a roundabout. This will include a new sidewalk into the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, relocation of a bus stop, creation of new crosswalks across all quadrants of the intersection, and improved connections to the shared-use path that runs next to the parkway.
Old Lynchburg Road and 5th Street Extended would also be converted. This would also provide sidewalk and shared use path segments, and would relocate a bus stop to allow for a pull-off. This is in the general location of the county’s office building on 5th Street Extended and the Albemarle Business Campus.
The design public hearing for these projects will be held in this summer and a request for qualifications will go out for firms to bid on the project. The current schedule shows that the Commonwealth Transportation Board would award a contract in the spring of 2024. The initial project budget had been $26.9 million but that has increased to $30.4 million due to inflation.
Improvements also coming to Fontaine Avenue and U.S. 29
The Fontaine Research Center will be the home of the University of Virginia’s new biotechnology center. The city of Charlottesville is upzoning Fontaine Avenue east of the county line. In recent years, some changes have been made with the road’s intersection with U.S. 29. With traffic volumes expected to change, VDOT has a plan to make further adjustments with elements that appear to be similar to the diverging diamond being built at U.S. 250 and Interstate 64.
As part of this project, the existing way of moving from northbound U.S. 29 to westbound I-64 is to cross southbound U.S. 29. That would be closed in favor of routing traffic to a U-turn at the Fontaine / U.S. 29 interchange. Survey work on this was just beginning as of the Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee meeting in February and the design public hearing for this wouldn’t take place until summer of 2024.
The slide presentation concludes with an acknowledgement that two “pipeline studies” are proposed. One would be for Barracks Road from Georgetown Road to Emmet Street to identify bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and the other would be at the U.S. 29 / U.S. 250 Ivy Road interchange. Both are considered by VDOT to be “Priority 2” needs.
An additional study is underway on U.S. 29 North in both Albemarle and Greene County.
Reading or listening material:
Charlottesville new zoning ordinance confronts affordable housing issue, Emily Horn, Cavalier Daily, March 16, 2023
Can a grocery build an oasis in Fifeville's 'food desert'?, Hawes Spencer, Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 18, 2023
Talking Business Over Coffee: Episode 17 | Sean Tubbs, Courteney Stuart, WINA, March 20, 2023
Concluding paragraphs for #512
The sudden appearance of springtime has brought more than a few changes to my life, and I’m going to take my foot off the pedal a little this week to make sure that I get to stop and chill with the daffodils for a little while. There will be an installment or two or three, but I’m taking a few days off from Fifth District Community engagement. I’ll keep people posted through the Substack Chat function. I won’t pretend to understand how it works.
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