Uh, Oh, Charlottesville Needs Another $132 Million

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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.

 — JAB

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  1. 25 cents per person per mile. EzPass!

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    “Jeff Werner, a land-use field officer with the Piedmont Environmental Council … “.

    A land-use field officer?

    Is that a reasonable term for a private organization?

    Kind of like Captain Crunch was a naval officer?

    Seems like the PEC is starting to take itself way too seriously.

  3. It’s amazing the amount of money spent on highways and automobiles. Just driving 20 miles on 95 you probably see $100 million in highway, bridges, and exits, and another $5 million in vehicles you pass, not to mention the cost of purchasing the land (and loss of the land for other purposes) and everyday maintenance (police, litter, vegetation control). Is there a number for “unfunded liabilities” (like for state pension plans and federal entitlement programs) that would tell us what the Commonwealth’s unfunded liability is for replacing all of these new highways? I’d prefer decent railroad and bus service to driving a car, but that seems unlikely. Jim – I hope that some of what you are saying about transportation gets through to the powers that be, but I suspect that they are too conflicted to for that.

    1. Judging by the fact that I usually do get my phone calls return, I think people *are* paying attention. Whether they are swayed by what I write, that’s a different matter entirely.

  4. the problem with rail funding is the gas tax. The gas tax was “dedicated” to roads and pay for by people driving their vehicles on the roads.

    It seemed like a perfect symbiotic relationship and many still take a dim view to rail “stealing” money from road taxes.

    their standard retort is “go find your own funding” and they are quite sure that a majority of people will not agree to new/increased taxes for rail.

    There is one weakness in their argument though and that is that 1/2% of the sale tax – on everyone, not just drivers, gets devoted to roads so perhaps that funding source is not so sacrosanct.

    There’s a particular irony with regard to the Charlottesville Bypass and that is the rationale for it has been, in part, that Cville constitutes a “bottleneck” on north/south travel on Rt 29 through Virginia, which some see as a potential interstate-grade through road. Lynchburg was among the more vocal critics of Cville messing up Rt 29 through travel and lobbied as much as anyone for the bypass.

    but here’s the irony (post here by someone else, maybe Richard):

    Passenger Trains Aren’t Just for Cities

    Can a passenger train succeed — and turn a profit — in a region with low-population density? Lynchburg. Virginia, is a test case and passing with flying colors

    excerpt: ” Lynchburg’s got something else that most people would only expect to find in the megacities of the Bos-Wash corridor: a regional passenger train. And it’s not just any regional passenger train. Though the town is relatively small, Lynchburg boasts the highest performing passenger train in the entire United States outside of the urban northeast.”


  5. Larry, an additional sales tax on gasoline goes to WMATA. I seem to recall it is about 2.1% on sales. So some drivers are also subsidizing transit.

  6. @TMT – the 2.1% is the PRTC/NVTA VRE tax on fuel only – only in NoVa VRE jurisdictions.

    The .5% is on all sales and is Virginia-wide.

    here, look at McDonnell’s recent statement of transportation:

    ” Increasing the dedicated transportation allocation of the sales tax from .5 percent to .75 percent over the next 8 years. During the upcoming budget, increasing the dedicated sales tax percentage to .55 percent generating over $110 million in new transportation funding going to maintenance”


    Now don’t you find it ironic that a GOP Governor is proposing a tax INCREASE on ALL Virginia’s for transportation when the same GOP hammers the Dems for supporting a tax increase for transportation?

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