As a follow-up to our previous story on the grade-separated interchange (GSI) at US 29 and Rio Road, we asked Rio District Supervisor Brad Sheffield to address some of the issues raised by Woodbrook residents. Supervisor Sheffield addressed our questions in an interview recorded at the County Office Building on February 10, 2015.
Listen: Listen to our full interview with Supervisor Sheffield here. (33m)
I began by asking Supervisor Sheffield about current traffic levels. Many Woodbrook residents believe that traffic congestion has yet to reach the level that justifies the development of the GSI. "[VDOT] also looks at approved and by-right growth, and this is the biggest thing that has been ignored in the conversations about traffic projections that I hope people will understand," said Sheffield. Referring to development on US 29 North Sheffield said, "There's a daunting amount of growth that has already been approved; Hollymead is still not built out and there is still hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space planned." The biggest of these developments, North Pointe, includes about a million square feet of commercial space and about a thousand homes, adding tens of thousands of cars to US 29, according to Sheffield.
"Hydraulic [Road] is a great example of what happens when we wait too long," said Sheffield, addressing our question of why this intersection isn't being developed first. "I think when VDOT looked at these projects, and looked at what money they were going to allocate, the 230 million dollars, I think they looked at what they could do what people like to call shovel ready." Sheffield went on to say that they looked for a project with manageable right-of-way constraints. That the intersection is located partly in Albemarle County and partly in the City of Charlottesville also complicates the issue at Hydraulic Road, Sheffield explained.
I asked Supervisor Sheffield a question that has been on many minds here in Woodbrook, that is, why not build out the Berkmar and Hillsdale extensions before investing in the development of the GSI. "When [VDOT] started to analyze the parallel roads, it was immediately apparent that the Rio intersection was going to be directly impacted," said Sheffield. The VDOT analysis predicts that traffic flowing north and south on Berkmar and Hillsdale will eventually flow into US 29 at Rio Road, increasing the traffic volume at the intersection and causing it to fail, according to Sheffield.
"We have six business representatives on [the] panel that I participate in every other Thursday," said Sheffield in response to our question on the effect of the GSI on local businesses. "I believe that the decline of this area commercially is very directly related to the congestion [in this area]," he said. He hopes that local businesses will continue to interact with VDOT to maintain their visibility at this intersection. According to Sheffield, improving the intersection will bring new business to the area. "There is a special use permit site plan that has been submitted recently for a 130 bed hotel to be put at this intersection," he added.
To address concerns about congestion at the Woodbrook and US 29 traffic light, Sheffield said that during construction a U-turn will be provided near Carter Myers Automotive to allow vehicles to turn around before reaching the Woodbrook light. "South of the [Rio/29] intersection, right at Berkmar drive, there will be a temporary light as well as the ability to make a U-turn," he said, the idea being that at least some traffic will be routed around the Woodbrook traffic lights during the construction stage of the project. After construction, northbound vehicles trying to reach Goodwill will need to make a U-turn at the Woodbrook lights. Sheffield believes that this will have a "minimal impact" on the intersection. He does concede that following construction, the Woodbrook and US 29 intersection "will be the number one intersection that is going to have to be managed properly."
Supervisor response, or lack thereof, to Woodbrook concerns is a recurring issue here. According to Sheffield, the Board of Supervisors has seen about 1700 signatures. That's compared to the 13,000 signatures that Smart29 says it has collected in opposition to the GSI. "If that is the case, we have not been provided any petitions at all that have accumulated to 13,000 signatures," said Sheffield. "I think we are listening to the public. I held six town hall meetings, two that were specifically advertised for this project," said Sheffield. "The most common theme that comes up [among constituents] is 'just get something done'," he added.
In closing, Sheffield said "I encourage people to reach out to me. Ask me the questions—I will try to get you the answers."