The Square Tops CCAC Priorities for Transportation Projects
By Eric Wallace
The Crozet Community Advisory Committee met at Crozet Library with Albemarle County principal transportation planner Kevin McDermott and other county officials Feb. 15 to prioritize transportation projects for the coming year and beyond.
The discussion opened with Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Rio District representative Brad Sheffield discussing the implementation of bus service from Crozet to Charlottesville in his capacity as the executive director of JAUNT Inc.
“The route is going to be limited to around a 45-minute travel window,” Sheffield told CCAC members. “So whatever lines we put on the map, whatever stops we put on the ground, we’re going to keep from the first time a bus picks somebody up to the last time they drop somebody off down to 45 minutes.”
That window will play a key role in determining stop locations as well as routes. “Right now, it takes about 20 minutes to get from here to UVA,” said Sheffield. “You add two more stops and you’re up to 35 or 40 minutes. Add another and there’s a compounding effect.”
JAUNT is working with the University of Virginia to determine community interest in Crozet locations for bus stops as well as arrival times in Charlottesville. Both JAUNT and the University conducted citizen surveys to gather data and obtained overlapping results.
“The bulk of the feedback for where people would like to see stops came from the west side, with Old Trail followed by the Highlands and Corey Farms areas as favorites,” said Sheffield.
The times preferred for departures were 7:45 and 8:15 a.m., with a preferred return around 5 p.m. Route planners want to avoid highly congested areas in the morning, including the intersections at Brownsville Elementary and Western Albemarle High School on Rt. 250.
“Something that surprised us was the amount of public feedback regarding midday service,” said Sheffield. “People indicated there was an interest in going to Charlottesville for leisure or shopping or whatever, so we’re looking into accommodating that as well.”
For the line to be successful, it would be best to secure stop locations that feature convenient parking for commuters and surroundings that make for easier waits—proximity to a coffee shop or a grocery store, for instance.
There is currently a 12-spot park and ride area designated behind the Bank of America in downtown Crozet, Sheffield said. But the lot wouldn’t facilitate smooth pickups and drop-offs for a bus service.
“How about the Methodist church right here in downtown?” asked committee member Phil Best. “They’re busy on Sundays but not on the weekdays and they do the farmers’ market there, so I’d imagine they’d be amenable.”
Another suggestion was the Great Valu parking lot. “It offers a good turnaround for a bus, parking and, if you’re coming back from a day at work, you could go right in the store and get your groceries on the way home,” said James King, who serves as the CCAC secretary. A stop near the Barnes Lumber development was also suggested.
Sheffield said his “optimistic estimate” for a functioning line is August. “Our next step is to determine possible stop locations and contact property owners for permissions,” he said. “After that, the biggest hurdle is talking with the county and U.Va. about figuring out a budget and securing funding… But the most important thing here is to make sure we start this right, so that we have the biggest ridership.”
Shifting to the prioritization of transportation projects, McDermott offered a briefing about current projects. Topping the list are improvements slated along Rockfish Gap Turnpike.
“New sidewalks will be going in on the northside from Corey Farms over to the entrance of the Clover Lawn Village area, and on the southside, one segment will be installed right in front of the Harris Teeter,” he said. “We’re currently in VDOT’s design review phase of things, but I think in the next year we’ll see improvements.”
The project was originally intended to include a safe way for pedestrians to cross Rt. 250, but “VDOT said, ‘No way, we’re not having an un-signalized crossing right there,’” explained McDermott.
He subsequently applied for a Smart Scale grant that was rejected but yielded an interesting result.
“They’d asked for a roundabout, which wasn’t going to get funded, but after we got rejected for that we were able to go back to VDOT and come up with a better solution that we think we can implement in the near term.”
The solution is a mid-block pedestrian crossing situated between Harris Teeter and Blue Ridge Building supply. “The idea is, between the two left turn lanes, there’s space to put a pedestrian refuge which would have a curve so that it’s protected, and as it’s angled you can see vehicles coming from either direction,” said McDermott. “And because it’s a much-lower-cost project, we’ll be able to get it done along with the sidewalk improvements.”
The crossing will feature a pressure-activated pad with flashing lights.
While the CCAC expressed safety concerns, according to White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek the installation will likely affect traffic patterns enough to make the area eligible for additional funding for safety improvements.
The CCAC designated three possible transportation projects as having foremost importance. Topping the list were streetscape improvements for the Crozet Square.
“I think that if we look at how Piedmont Place is taking off, how busy it is on the weekends, and we extend that thinking to The Square, that’s an example of what we’re looking at having happen,” said CCAC member Dean Eliason. “I think we need to do everything we can to make The Square successful.”
Second was a bridge over Lickinghole Creek to link the northern and southern portions of Eastern Avenue from Cory Farms subdivision on Rt. 250 to Rt. 240.
Third was a shared-use path along Route 240 to connect the Highlands neighborhood to Starr Hill and Crozet Avenue.
McDermott seemed most optimistic about the Eastern Avenue connector. “It’s been discussed for a long time now and I think is arguably the most important project the county has on its plate at the moment, not just for Crozet, but the county as well,” said McDermott.
“In one way or another, I think we’re going to see some action on this soon.”