Preliminary design concepts for possible changes to Rio Road in Albemarle County are ready for community members’ feedback.
The county is working with a consultant on a study of the area to create a Rio Road corridor plan, which the county is hoping will help address longstanding concerns about traffic in the corridor.
In videos online, Daniel Hyer with Line and Grade, the consulting firm working with county Community Development Department staff on the Rio study and plan, explains the possible designs for three major intersections in the corridor, including a roundabout, a Green-T intersection and a peanut roundabout.
The videos are available and feedback can be submitted at publicinput.com/N3174.
The county is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 23 to go over the design concepts, respond to feedback submitted thus far and answer additional questions.
Project team members also have scheduled three pop-up events ahead of the meeting to get feedback and answer questions in person. From 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 16, Albemarle’s community engagement van will be at The Center on Belvedere Boulevard. From to 6 p.m. Sept. 21, the van will be at Putt Putt on Putt Putt Place, and from noon to 2 p.m. Sept. 22, the van will be at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center on Rio Road.
The first phase of the study looks at the corridor from the John W. Warner Parkway intersection to near Fashion Square mall. Phase 2 concepts, which will cover Rio Road from the parkway to the city limits, will be discussed later.
The corridor has changed over time, with the addition of housing developments and the completion of the John W. Warner Parkway, and portions of the corridor see about 30,000 vehicles per day.
“We need the entire corridor to act as a unified, whole corridor, while at the same time the design improvements at each area of the intersection need to reflect the deficiencies and observations at each of these discrete areas,” Hyer said in a video.
Along the entire corridor, Line and Grade is proposing a shared-use path and a raised median. Along the median, there would be cut-out spaces for vehicles to make U-turns.
“The benefit of having raised medians is that pedestrians who want to cross the corridor can do so at more regular intervals and they have place of refuge in between each direction of travel flow,” Hyer said.
Earlier this year, Albemarle was awarded funding from the state for a roundabout at the intersection of Rio Road and the John W. Warner Parkway, but Line and Grade is proposing to shift the roundabout north to Rio’s intersection with Dunlora Drive.
The preliminary design concept is still a roundabout, Hyer said, because the solution should be “of the same intent of what was funded,” to utilize the money from the state.
The intersection was also part of an alternatives analysis completed in early 2020 at the request of the Virginia Department of Transportation, which recommended a roundabout. That analysis was part of the basis for the state funding submission.
Hyer said the move north is an effort to remove redundant infrastructure, such as additional roads and intersections that “don’t make the experience any better;” fix road spacing; and create a simpler intersection. He said there is also “underutilized public space” at the intersection, and moving the roundabout creates the “opportunity to gain back public space.”
“I think the biggest win from this is not just the operational capacity of the intersection, but how we’ve been able to aggregate public space, not just the public space that exists, but we’re able to aggregate that with the public space that is being proffered as a result of the Wetsel property development,” he said.
A developer is currently proposing apartments on the property at the intersection of Rio Road and the parkway that was formerly owned by the Wetsel family. In August the developer asked for a deferral.
Originally, Rio’s current intersection with CATEC was proposed to be removed, but Hyer said the school said there needs to be some sort of access in that area, which will be included in a future update.
At Rio Road and Belvedere Boulevard, Line and Grade is proposing a Green-T intersection.
In a Green-T intersection, drivers who want to turn left from Belvedere Boulevard onto Rio Road would watch for oncoming traffic from the left and use a channelized lane to merge onto Rio after passing through the intersection. Drivers only have to look for oncoming traffic from the left instead of both directions due to the channelized lane.
“It minimizes the conflict points that a vehicle might have, and by a conflict point, we mean the point that an accident could happen,” Hyer said. “By introducing this Green-T intersection, we’re allowing what could be a vehicle-crossing maneuver to become a vehicle-merging maneuver, which is a much safer maneuver for vehicles and should reduce a lot of the accidents that we’re seeing at this intersection.”
Between 2013 and 2020, there were 19 crashes at the intersection.
Hyer said Line and Grade is working with City Church on a solution that allows it to maintain good access, while moving its entrance out of the intersection.
For the Rio Road intersections with Hillsdale Drive, Old Brook Road and Northfield Road, Line and Grade is proposing a peanut, or bean-shaped, roundabout.
“I think we need to get the intersections acting as one, so the two need to become one, sort of like a marriage,” Hyer said. “We need to slow the cars down. We need to create predictable pedestrian infrastructure so that pedestrian crossings are not just easy, but they’re predictable to vehicles. And I think we should try to average this topographic high point for some sort of gateway-type feature to the corridor that can also serve as a traffic-calming device.”
Between 2013 and 2020, there were 43 crashes at Rio’s intersection with Hillsdale Drive and Northfield Road and 20 crashes at the intersection with Old Brook Road.