What About Berkmar Extended?

A press release from the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Firm raises an important point: Berkmar Drive Extended is supposed to go in the same spot where the Western Bypass is supposed to go, and building one or more bridges over the Rivanna River to carry both of those (and then having Berkmar go over or under the 2–3 on- and off-ramps) is going to be a bit of a trick. SELC had a traffic engineering firm produce a report on the topic, trying to deal with the fact that the Berkmar plan and the bypass plan aren’t reconciled in any way. The engineer concludes that “[u]nder any scenario, trying to fit two facilities in this space would be difficult and extremely expensive,” whether by having adjacent roadways sharing a bridge, a few underpasses/overpasses and a parallel bridge, or just a pair of bridges. (It’s tough to explain, but looking at the diagrams, it’s easy to appreciate the complexity of the problem.)

The Berkmar Drive extension, you’ll recall, is intended to be a part of a parallel road network to 29N, to transport local traffic. It’s a method of getting thousands of cars off of 29N at a significantly lower cost than a bypass. No doubt it’s possible to do so in tandem with the bypass bypass, but rushing through the bypass without considering basic questions like this probably isn’t going to make things go more smoothly in this department.

11 thoughts on “What About Berkmar Extended?”

  1. I too am concerned about the dynamic brewing. Bypass opponents want no bypass, period. Bypass supporters want the designed bypass now.

    Bypass opponents don’t want to discuss functional changes to the bypass because 1) they’re still hoping to stop the whole thing and 2) doing so might seem like admitting defeat, or even favoring the bypass.

    Bypass supporters don’t want to discuss functional changes to the bypass because 1) they think changes will slow down the project and 2) any changes proposed by local parties are likely to viewed as trojan horses.

    So who’s left to advocate for the middle ground, a better designed version of the 10-15 year old design we have now? I’m glad SELC has hedged their bet to point out some commonsense holes in the current design. Both the northern and southern termini need work, the northern isn’t designed and the southern is vastly larger than it needs to be. With such a large swath of connected right of way, this is the only opportunity to install a off road multi-use path, a la Meadowcreek Parkway to offer a trail connection for west of 29 residents to downtown/UVA. I’m sure there are more needs. But, if this is to be a rushed, chronically-underfunded bypass, all of these “optional” items will be quick to the chopping block and we’ll be left with the ill-designed result.

  2. Here’s another interesting story out today describing how the northern bypass “will be redesigned to avoid closing Ashwood Blvd”(http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2011/07/bypass-town-hall.html). The whole road is currently designed in metric. It seems like information is coming out in dribs and drabs to prevent the community from having a clear idea of what is going on. Only promises from our leaders and word that everything will be funded.
    One example of this is Rodney Thomas .
    “Rodney L. Thomas, chairman of the MPO, said he had received a commitment[for funding of the latest MPO requests] from VDOT, but was unwilling to share the information.’We are going to announce that at the MPO [tonight],’ Thomas said.”

    My question is that if this road is the best solution for our local area and the region as a whole, Why have the public hearings been stacked? Why are we relying on assurances from “people in the room”? I hoped that common sense would prevail but it simply seems like we are pawns in this whole exercise.

  3. “My question is that if this road is the best solution for our local area and the region as a whole…”

    Well, as somewhat of a “middle ground” on this subject, I think most people agree that the Western By-Pass is not the BEST solution for our local area and region as a whole. However, is a “best” solution possible? Planning, re-designing, and obtaining right-of-way for another location (say, one that goes up past the airport) would put this project back on hold for years (of course, that’s what many people would like to see).

    I’m not at the point where I feel that the Western By-Pass is absolutely necessary, but I do find benefit in it. Waldo, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement about Berkmar extended: “It’s a method of getting thousands of cars off of 29N at a significantly lower cost than a bypass.” Like I said about Hillsdale extended, those roadways will serve LOCAL traffic, while the By-Pass is meant to serve through/regional/inter-state traffic. Construction of Berkmar/Hillsdale won’t fix the lengthy backups on 29 SB approaching the existing By-Pass near Best Buy.

    Here’s a pseudo-scientific simple traffic study. VDOT has traffic data available in Excel format for all primary roads in the state here: http://www.virginiadot.org/info/ct-TrafficCounts.asp. Traffic volumes along the heaviest stretches of US 29 between the existing By-Pass/Rio Rd are approaching 60,000 vehicles per day (vpd), some of the highest volumes along US 29 in its entirety in Virginia. We know that a huge chunk of this volume is local, however, and that volume could be lessened by construction of parallel local roads such as Hillsdale Drive and Berkmar Drive. So how much of this volume isn’t local? Along rural stretches of US 29, where traffic is almost entirely through traffic, the average daily volumes are around 15,000 vpd (see Madison County, Albemarle County south of Charlottesville, Nelson County, etc.). Obviously, not all of the traffic from Madison County on US 29 is traveling to Nelson County and vice versa, but it is reasonable to assume that some of this traffic is. In addition, a significant amount of traffic along the developed stretch of US 29 that would be by-passed is traffic heading from north of Wal-Mart to UVA; this traffic would also utilize the By-Pass.

    Thus, in my opinion, the By-Pass would serve a reasonable amount of traffic (I’d estimate around 15,000 vpd) while removing a significant amount of through traffic from US 29. Sure, you’d still have problems on US 29 from the gauntlet of traffic lights and never-ending access points; these problems could be relieved through construction of roads such as Berkmar and Hillsdale (and removal of some access points). Traffic volumes on US 29 would also be lower with construction of the By-Pass, and I would expect to see much less queuing at the ramp by Best Buy. A By-Pass will be of mixed benefit locally, but should greatly serve regional traffic.

  4. Waldo, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement about Berkmar extended: “It’s a method of getting thousands of cars off of 29N at a significantly lower cost than a bypass.” Like I said about Hillsdale extended, those roadways will serve LOCAL traffic, while the By-Pass is meant to serve through/regional/inter-state traffic. Construction of Berkmar/Hillsdale won’t fix the lengthy backups on 29 SB approaching the existing By-Pass near Best Buy.

    I think we’re actually agreeing here. Your distinction between local and through traffic is a meaningful one, of course, but let’s not forget that reducing the amount of local traffic on 29N will have the effect of reducing the amount of overall traffic, and thus making things faster for through traffic.

  5. Sort of. I don’t see the goal as “reducing the amount of cars on US 29” but rather “improving the flow of vehicles on 29, both locally and regionally”. Simply reducing the amount of cars on US 29 (whether via a By-Pass or construction of parallel roads) will help; a big problem that will remain un-addressed is the large number of closely-spaced traffic signals coupled with the amount of access points along the heavily-developed stretch of US 29. This contributes greatly to the current level of service of the roadway, not just the number of vehicles.

    I don’t know too much about cost estimates for Berkmar vs. the By-Pass, but the By-Pass will obviously be designed to carry much more traffic – and much heavier traffic. Isn’t one of Lynchburg’s/Danville’s harping points for building the By-Pass improving travel for trucks? The By-Pass will cost much more than Berkmar Drive because it’s designed to carry much heavier traffic at much higher speeds!

    My point is that Berkmar Drive (or Hillsdale Drive) won’t do very much, in my opinion, to improve the flow of vehicles regionally. The only way to accomplish this is to limit the access on US 29 (good luck with that) – or create a separate limited-access highway (the Western By-Pass). The question is: does the benefit of the Western By-Pass (to regional traffic, the trucking industry, out-of-town commuters to UVA, etc.) outweigh the cost (the monetary cost to taxpayers, the potential harm to the local community, loss of property, etc.)?

  6. I’d like to respond to Andrew, who commented that no one was willing to occupy the middle ground. I’m not sure that’s right. I and a lot of other folks who oppose this version of the bypass are quite willing to have a discussion of ways to do a bypass differently — I actually think it’s a good idea, despite being staunchly opposed to this iteration of the bypass. When I attended the incredibly lengthy City Council public comment session on the topic, I heard others saying the same thing. I think the trick is going to be to get anyone with some experience and knowledge to lead a public gathering where real alternatives (or the lack thereof) are discussed.

  7. JG- I’d have to agree with Andrew. TODAY, there are people wanting to do this “the right way,” but for years,no one has. I, also, have listened to the hearing- and am listening to one now. What is happening with the Meadowcreek Pkwy is exactly why no one could take the middle ground folk seriously. Ten years ago, the argument was all about the watershed of the Rivanna. Today, with all the wackiness that is going on with reservoir plans, this isn’t the issue anymore. Now it is all about the health of the children. How could anyone expect outsiders to take alternative plans seriously- especially with people like Jeff Werner, the SELC, and the other knee-jerk responders at these hearings?

  8. JG,

    I guess it’s a matter of how “differently” you’d like to do the bypass. If it is a matter of designing a South Fork bridge that accepts a future Berkmar crossing, or a redesign of the termini, than you’re right, I failed to include you in my equation above.

    But, if “differently” includes starting or ending in a different place, following a different route, etc., than I think you might as well be considered a bypass opponent, because it doesn’t seem like the CTB is willing to consider changes of that magnitude, and as a result we are left with only two options: this bypass, or no bypass.

    Whatever your position on the bypass, I think most will agree that this is not the ideal way to spend $250 million in public money.


  9. Agreed… and this will balloon to more than 300M after all the regions dream projects are attached. I wonder if Sen. Newman would have supported all that. He could have wrung half that amount out of the
    state and put it into projects in the Lynchburg area.

  10. I definitely would be interested in a different route, and I certainly haven’t been convinced by arguments in favor of this one. Along with the problem of the school/children effect, there’s simply the issue of routing traffic through existing neighborhoods and changing that dynamic dramatically. I’ve lived very near the 250 bypass and that changed the character of the neighborhoods and houses that fringed it. In addition, this isn’t a change designed with the idea at it’ll just make traffic flow better — to hear its Lynchburg proponents argue it, it’s also expected to make more people willing to take 29 down from DC. That’s more traffic coming this way, and not on a true bypass of Cville, but on this renamed “connector” that drives through the heart of our city. Ultimately, I think the CTB isn’t doing their job if they move ahead with a fifteen-year-old plan without exploring possible changes needed — and that includes termini locations and whether a different route makes more sense today. I don’t want to squash possible improvements — I just want us to move ahead thoughtfully now that this topic has been resurrected. And that certainly makes me more middle ground than some.

  11. So interesting to see such thoughtful, reasoned, discussion that includes data and analysis rather than bombast and sloganeering. And such a shame that the only place you see it is here and on other forums, and from at least a portion of the people who comment at the *after the fact* public venting sessions, even though you could tell from the body language that they were just sitting there watching the clock and playing rope a dope until it was finished.

    The level of discussion at BOS is so poor by comparison – all we’re left to do is throw these bums out. Can take of Boyd this November but we’ll have to wait on Thomas and Snow.

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