Route 29 Solutions Package Nears Completion in Charlottesville
With the opening of its last two major projects - the widening of Route 29 and the extension of Berkmar Drive - the extensive Route 29 Solutions program in the Charlottesville, Virginia, area is virtually complete. The Route 29 Solutions improvement projects represent a significant investment in mobility, improved safety, and reduced congestion on the busiest north-south corridor in the Charlottesville/Albemarle County region.
Thirty-five years ago, a Route 29 Western Bypass was planned to run from the south of the city of Charlottesville to the north. For about 30 years, there were various attempts to get this project moving, and efforts in 2012 saw bids get underway for a 6.2-mile, $225 million project.
But as Dave Covington, Regional Transportation Manager with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), comments, "Legal and other challenges culminated in a review of the project by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which questioned the purpose and need, and ultimately stopped the project in its tracks.
"In early 2014, however, efforts were made by the new governor and the Virginia Secretary of Transportation to move forward with Route 29 projects, and a panel was formed along the corridor to determine the scope of the project; over the course of four meetings, this panel developed a list of projects meant to relieve congestion and improve safety. Project selection was the result of a process that included input from the advisory panel, which consisted of representatives from communities along the entire Route 29 corridor. The resulting Route 29 Solutions package of eight improvement projects was approved for funding by the Commonwealth Transportation Board on June 18, 2014."
Four existing projects received additional funding to complete construction:
Route 29/Route 250 Interchange Improvements
This project added a second lane to the entrance ramp from Route 29 south onto the Route 250 Bypass and an associated merge lane on Route 250 westbound to the Barracks Road exit. It also provided an additional southbound lane on Route 29 just north of the interchange to ease congestion for local traffic heading into Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.
Hillsdale Drive Extension
This projectprovides a three-lane roadway between Greenbrier Drive in Albemarle County to Hydraulic Road in the City of Charlottesville.
Route 29 Widening, Polo Grounds Road to Towncenter Drive
This project widened Route 29 (Seminole Trail) from a four-lane divided highway to a six-lane divided highway from Route 643 (Polo Grounds Road) to Route 1719 (Towncenter Drive) in northern Albemarle County.
Adaptive Traffic Signal Control Technology
Numerous improvements were made to existing traffic signals along the Route 29 corridor. Ultimately the program was modified to include newer signal control hardware and software technology that enables the Traffic Operations Center to utilize performance-based metrics to manage the corridor's signal systems. In addition, the enhanced controllers allow operations staff to monitor the corridor and adjust the signals during situations that result in unusual traffic patterns.
Full funding was also provided for three new projects, including the Route 29/Rio Road Grade-Separated Intersection, which Covington describes as the program's "cornerstone" project. It separates traffic on Route 29 from traffic on Rio Road by replacing the current at-grade intersection with a grade-separated intersection. Rio Road remains at roughly the current grade while Route 29 was reconstructed to separate through traffic and local traffic exiting at Rio Road. Four through lanes (two each direction) were constructed underneath Rio Road to carry traffic with destinations north or south of Rio Road. Local lanes were built to the outside of the through lanes so traffic with local destinations can leave Route 29 onto Rio Road or access the businesses near the intersection.
The other two new projects in the package were:
Berkmar Drive Extension from Hilton Heights Road to Towncenter Drive
A new 2.3-mile-long road parallels Route 29 to the west, offering an alternative for local traffic traveling north or south between Charlottesville and Albemarle County's urban ring to the developed Hollymead area, the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport and the county's park at Chris Greene Lake.
Hillsdale Drive South, from Hydraulic Road to Holiday Drive
This 0.9-mile-long project expands the parallel road network on the Route 29 corridor north of Charlottesville by completing a connection between Rio Road and Hydraulic Road east of Route 29.
Funding for study and preliminary engineering for improvements to another highly congested intersection on the corridor, the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Route 29, is included in the Route 29 Solutions package.
Three of the projects were built using the design-build project delivery process under a single contract. VDOT selected Lane-Corman Joint Venture, a partnership between Lane Construction Corp of Cheshire, Connecticut, and Corman Construction, Inc. of Annapolis Junction, Maryland. A team led by RK&K Engineers of Baltimore, Maryland, provided the design services for these projects. The design-build projects include the grade-separated intersection, the Route 29 widening, and the Berkmar Drive extension.
Covington relates, "In June 2014, we determined the advantages of taking three significant projects and grouping them into one design-build proposal, to attract the best team and allow a concentrated effort. We issued Requests for Qualifications, and we evaluated the five submittals, the top three moved forward and received Request for Proposals in October 2014."
A fast-moving process saw technical specifications received from all three candidates in January 2015, and the Lane-Corman Joint Venture was given the notice to proceed that March. Utility relocation began that spring, and was completed the following January; road construction got underway in June 2015. Says Covington, "It was amazing how fast the utilities responded; it made for the smoothest relocation project I've ever seen."
Amr El-Sayed with Lane Construction, the Project Control Engineer on the design-build projects, explains, "Lane provided periodical training to new staff, had regular auditing of all project management processes, and maintained a health and safety environment throughout the whole project. Corman brought their bridge experience to the table, and combined with Lane's long experience in road construction, and the perfect design solutions from RK&K, we had the winning combination.
"Lane-Corman was able to meet all the project milestones and finished ahead of time for all three projects included in the design-build contract. All three were to be completed by late October 2017, but all were done by July 2017. The Route 29/Rio Road intersection reopened as a grade-separated intersection on July 18, 2016, 46 days ahead of VDOT's milestone date of September 2, 2016. The Route 29 widening and Berkmar Drive Extension projects opened to traffic on July 2, 2017 and were accepted by VDOT on July 21, 2017."
The overall project completion on July 21 was 101 days ahead of the VDOT contractual final completion of October 30, 2017.
Significant early completion incentives inspired the design-build team to develop an innovative approach to the construction of the grade-separated intersection - starting the piling construction activities for the bridge and the retaining walls for the depressed intersection before the Rio Road crossover closure period. All of that work occurred at night.
Says Covington, "The biggest challenge was having to keep three lanes in each direction open during daylight hours. The lane closures were limited to the nighttime hours, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. We constructed the retaining walls at night, then covered them with steel plates so traffic could flow during the day. We had 2,700 linear feet of steel plate at any given time."
A Commitment to the Community
VDOT did extensive community outreach to demonstrate their commitment to completing construction with the least possible amount of impact to the local businesses. The contract required that all business entrances remain open during business hours, including in some cases extended hours. A comprehensive website provided constantly updated information about the projects. A "get-around" map for public use was printed and distributed at local businesses. VDOT also funded a paid multi-media advertising campaign to educate all Route 29 users about the construction and how to navigate through the work areas. A second advertising campaign with the tagline "Rio+29 Worth the Drive" and jointly funded by VDOT and Albemarle County, focused on the businesses in the project area and encouraged the public to continue to patronize those businesses.
Covington comments, "The core of making this a successful project was transparency. We were willing to meet with anyone and tell them anything, and all documents were made accessible on the project website. And the feedback did result in some changes to the project.
"We had an excellent relationship with Lane-Corman. There was a strong commitment on both sides of the team, which we both lived up to. And, we both demonstrated our commitment by co-locating our offices, holding very frequent project activity meetings, and expediting review and revision timelines. We also demonstrated our commitment to the community by live-streaming panel meetings and providing podcasts of the meetings on our website to ensure transparency. I feel that this program serves as a model for other projects to come."