Construction has not yet begun on Charlottesville’s Western Bypass but the Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization outlined yesterday an idea for building an 8.3-mile extension of the bypass for possible inclusion in the region’s long-range transportation plan.
Using standard unit costs without the benefit of engineering studies, the commission estimates that the project would cost $132 million. That number includes 20-year maintenance costs. (Sean Tubbs provides details of the presentation in Charlottesville Tomorrow.)
The extension would run parallel U.S. 29 in rough alignment with the existing Dickerson Road. The project would include improvements to the pavement and alignment of Dickerson Road to allow for higher traffic volumes and speed. Two bridges would also have to be upgraded and two interchanges constructed.
A written MPO description of the project estimates that it would generate 522 million Person Miles Traveled over a 20-year period at a cost of $0.25 per person mile. That compares to a cost of $0.03 per Person Mile Traveled for a proposal to revamp three miles of U.S. 29 from a highway into more of an urban boulevard. That $45.6 million project would affect 1,439 million Person Miles Traveled.
The boulevard concept would decrease the number of automobile lanes while repurposing two lanes as Bus Rapid Transit bus lanes. Other costs would include adding curb and gutter, planting landscaping, and installing a 10-foot-wide bike/pedestrian lane along with pedestrian crossings at each intersection.
Whether any of these projects have a prayer of finding funding is another issue. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) forecasts say the department will run out of state funds for new construction projects by 2017. Speaking at the MPO hearing, Jeff Werner, a land-use field officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council, predicted that none of the MPO ideas would get money because the Western Bypass had soaked up the region’s funding. “You’re going to get the money for this road and then you’re going to get nothing else.”
Bacon’s bottom line: The Western Bypass will cost more than $200 million to build. Everyone knew that it would bypass only a portion of the congestion along U.S. 29 and that an extension probably would be necessary. Now we have a rough price tag to finish the project: $132 million.
The most interesting thing to me about the MPO’s six proposals — which also included widening of U.S. 250 at two locations, a Berkmar Drive extension and an eastern connector — were the metrics used to compare projects. When toting up total costs, the MPO included projected 20 years of maintenance. Good move. We need to compare full life-cycle costs of projects, not just up-front construction costs.
Also, the MPO projected total Persons Mile Traveled over 20 years to derive a cost per person-mile of funding each project. The cost per person-mile varied enormously, from $0.03 for the Rt. 29 Boulevard concept to $0.69 for the Berkmar Drive extension.
While useful, the Persons Mile Traveled metric is incomplete. It doesn’t tell us much about how much added capacity we’re getting from these investment. For instance, the U.S. 29 Boulevard concept would reduce the number of lanes and traffic speeds for automobiles. Would the addition of Bus Rapid Transit make up the difference? That’s unclear. How much would BRT cost per person-mile? That information is not included.
For all its limitations, the metric gets us closer to being able to compare the costs and benefits of different projects for the purpose of setting priorities.