By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Construction on the city’s long-planned section of the

Meadow Creek Parkway

will begin this summer, even though legal and regulatory hurdles remain for its interchange with the U.S. 250 bypass.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation does not need the interchange project to be finalized before construction gets under way on McIntire Road Extended,” said VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter in an email.

The

Commonwealth Transportation Board

officially awarded a $3.37 million contract last Wednesday to Key Construction of Clarksville to build the road, which will travel through the eastern side of the city’s McIntire Park.






Source: Daily Progress

In February 2010, VDOT announced the company had submitted the lowest bid. However, a contract could not be awarded until several parties agreed on what steps would be taken to mitigate the impacts the road would have on McIntire Park and other surrounding historic resources.

That process resulted in a signed memorandum of agreement between the city, VDOT and state and federal historic preservation agencies.

Negotiations were overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must issue a permit because a waterway known as Schenk’s Branch will be affected by the road’s construction.

“[Key Construction] met all the requirements back in 2010, and they agreed to honor their bid price,” Hatter said. “What happens now is that we’re waiting for receipt of the permit and once we get the permit, we give a notice to proceed to the contractor.”

Hatter said construction could begin 30 to 45 days after the permit is issued. That should happen within a few weeks, according to Kathy Perdue, the corps official responsible for completing the review.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can and should, upon final review, issue its final required permit for construction of the project within a short period of time,” said Tim Hulbert, executive director of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The pieces are in place now or are about to be in place.”

However, legal action is still pending against the interchange. It has been designed to carry the 250 Bypass over the extension of McIntire Road, which would carry traffic through the park and connect to the portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway already built in Albemarle.

In February, the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park

filed suit against the Federal Highway Administration

claiming the agency violated federal law when it issued a finding that the interchange would have no significant impact on the environment.

The coalition’s legal brief claimed there were valid alternatives to using parkland that were not given full consideration. The group also claimed the parkway and the interchange were illegally segmented into three projects to evade greater federal scrutiny.

The FHWA has officially denied the allegations in a legal response, and Judge Norman K. Moon will decide the case in federal court later this year.




Download the Coalition’s lawsuit against the FHWA




Download FHWA’s response to Coalition lawsuit report

Coalition member Peter Kleeman said the group is also considering legal action to stop construction of the road, in addition to the ongoing suit against the interchange.

“We are consulting our attorney and we are determining when we have our best opportunity to file, or whether our best strategy is file for an injunction,” Kleeman said.

“Our belief is that building McIntire Road Extended would be inappropriate and potentially wasteful without a resolution on the interchange,” he added.

Meanwhile, the city is conducting further tests this week as part of the final design for the interchange. Sections of the U.S. 250 Bypass will be restricted to one lane this week as crews from the firm Total Depth Drilling dig holes in the ground to determine its structural integrity.

“Survey boring is being done to make sure that there aren’t obstacles to doing something of that magnitude,” said city spokesman Ric Barrick.

The

City Council voted 3-2 in December 2009

to approve the design for the interchange, giving engineering firm RK&K direction to complete its work.

Barrick said the council might need to approve condemnation of land in order for the project to proceed.

He added the city hopes to advertise the interchange project for construction by the end of the year. A federal earmark of $27 million will be used to pay for the project, though no final cost estimate has been made public.

However, if for some reason the interchange is not built, Barrick said, the

council would need to vote to approve an at-grade intersection with the 250 Bypass

. One of the conditions of the council’s 2006 vote to proceed with the parkway was that a grade-separated interchange be built.

Kleeman said there are too many unanswered questions and that he believed City Council had given them an explicit opportunity to pursue legal action until all of the issues are resolved.

“It is our belief with council that they would allow us to go through the legal process,” Kleeman said. “We believe this resolution should take place before any earth is overturned in McIntire Park.”

The portion of the parkway that travels through Albemarle County is still being completed, though it was briefly open to traffic last fall as workers re-routed a portion of East Rio Road.