Supervisors take first step to improving dangerous roads

By Heather Michon

Anyone who drives around the county knows Fluvanna has some dangerous intersections, narrow bridges, and blind turns – but making our roads safer can be a complicated and expensive proposition. 

The Board of Supervisors took a step toward identifying and remedying some of the major problem spots during their regular meeting on Wednesday night (Sept. 7).

As Sandy Shackelford of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC)  explained at the start of her presentation, the infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress allocated the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) $5-6 billion in grant funding to distribute through the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program over the next five years. The goal of the program is to reduce roadway injuries and fatalities.

The catch?  To be eligible to apply for USDOT funding, localities have first to conduct a Comprehensive Safety Action Plan. 

None of the counties in the TJPDC area have done this sort of plan. To remedy this, Shackelford said the commission was applying for a grant to fund a regional study that would also include individualized plans for each locality. This approach would not only allow the commission to develop a comprehensive regional look at traffic issues, but it would also allow localities to split the cost of the studies. 

By Wednesday night, the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and Louisa County had opted to join the grant application. Shackelford asked the Fluvanna supervisors to approve a letter of support for the grant and commit to a local match of funds not to exceed $30,000 should it be approved. 

Noting that there were intersections and issues in the county that time had shown were “just not going to be addressed by VDOT,” County Administrator Eric Dahl said his staff believed TJPDC’s plan gave the county a better chance of being able to tap USDOT funding for a number of potential projects.  

Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra), who was participating remotely, said she often felt that the rural counties in the TJPDC didn’t benefit as much as Charlottesville and Albemarle in these projects. “I’m just not sure we should go forward with this at this time, until there’s more information on how the money’s going to be spent and how much more, exactly, we are going to be expected to contribute,” she said.

Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and Supervisor Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) were more supportive, reeling off a list of several problem intersections along Rts. 600 and 618 near Lake Monticello and Paynes Mill Road, along with several other well-known accident hotspots in the county.

Under the SS4A program, localities would generally be expected to match 20 percent of the requested grant amount. But Shackelford stressed  those countries who participated in the comprehensive plan would not be obligated to apply for grants or take on projects outside their financial means.  

She anticipated there would also be the potential to apply for regional implementation grants. “If we find, for example, something like there’s an issue with left turn lanes on certain portions of roads, it’s possible we could submit one application to install multiple left-turn lanes on certain kinds of roads across the region,” she said. 

Supervisor Chris Fairchild (Cunningham) said he wasn’t sure they had enough information to go forward that night, or if they needed a comprehensive study at all. 

“If it saves even one person’s life, it’s worth the $30,000,”  said O’Brien.

Sheridan argued that they would make back that $30,000 if they had even one successful grant application down the road, since the county’s 20 percent match would potentially allow them to fund a project that would otherwise be beyond their means.

“I’m just not convinced that we’re going to get the help that’s being offered or suggested here,” said Eager. 

The motion to approve the letter of support passed on a vote of 4-1, with Eager voting against.

Other actions:

Supervisors approved a $2,097 funding request from TJPDC towards the development of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the region. They had agreed to the funding in principle at their Feb. 16 meeting;

Gave authorization for the advertisement of a public hearing on Oct.  5 at 7 p.m.  on a plan to repeal Chapter 21 – Water and Sewage Disposal from the county code and replace it with an updated chapter.

Approved a new policy for electronic participation in meetings by supervisors to bring county policy into line with changes to Virginia Code §2.2-3708.3, which went into effect on Sept. 1.

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