After nearly two years of work, the final report of the Eastern Connector Corridor Location study will be presented to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. Lewis Grimm of the engineering firm PBS&J will make the full presentation this afternoon. It remains to be seen if the Charlottesville City Council will see the report. Both jurisdictions have contributed $250,000 to pay PBS&J for their work.

The Easter Connector Study

was initiated

in December of 2006 to investigate a possible transportation link between the Pantops area on Route 250 and the Route 29 corridor of Albemarle county. The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)

had identified

“failure grade” traffic congestion along key roads in their

UNJAM 2025

report, and


was hired to further investigate the traffic models in order to gauge the effectiveness of possible alignments.


steering committee

consisting of stakeholders from both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville was formed to guide PBS&J’s work. Ken Boyd (Rivanna) represents the County Board of Supervisors, and Kevin Lynch was appointed while serving as a Councilor. Lynch continues to represent the City of Charlottesville on the steering committee, but there is currently no elected official from the city involved in the study. The task force was instructed to recommend a two-lane road with multi-modal elements, specifically bike paths and sidewalks.

Several public meetings

were held

, in which over 125 residents expressed their concerns over going forward with the Eastern Connector. They cited potential environmental impacts, decreased access to public parks, and disturbance of residential neighborhoods. PBS&J agreed to incorporate this input into the process of devising alternatives for consideration by the steering committee.

During the course of a year, 13 alternatives were studied, debated, and finally winnowed down to three: a relocation of Proffit Road, a Polo Grounds Road connector, and a Pen Park route, connecting Rio Road and Route 20, either through or around the park. These were presented at a

public meeting in November 2007

. The citizens who attended the meeting expressed disapproval with all of the options, especially upon hearing that any of the projects would only adjust travel time between the two urban areas by a few minutes. The lack of public support sent the committee back to the drawing board.

The hearing sparked a debate about whether the problem is local or regional in nature. Many citizens assumed that much of the traffic flow was due to long-distance travel between Interstate 64 and Route 29 north, but the consultant’s

traffic analysis

only attributed 5% to through trips. Most of the traffic was determined to be local, which lent credence to the idea that a local connector would be more effective than a full-scale bypass. Some legal concerns were also raised over whether the Federal government would approve of the alternative placing the route through Pen Park, but the committee felt confident that a good case for the road could persuade them to give clearance for the project. The possibility of improving Route 250 and widening Free Bridge was also considered.

In March of 2008, the Charlottesville City Council sent a memo to Grimm instructing him to take off the table any alternatives within the city limits, considering that the initial purpose of the connector was to relieve traffic through the city center. Council began to express doubt about whether the study would lead to any workable results. In a letter to the steering committee, they also suggested that transit options be taken into consideration. When the Meadowcreek Parkway was approved in August, the City Council made the approval contingent on further study of the Easter Connector.

The steering committee met a few times into the summer of 2008 to hear updates from PBS&J’s Project manager Lewis Grimm and set the course for future study.

The Pen Park alignment slowly emerged as the favorite

. The preliminary estimates of the cost ranged between $28 and $79 million, depending on which route would be taken through the park, but these figures were not precise enough for the committee to confidently present them to elected officials. If any costs are provided,

said Kevin Lynch

, a full report of the methodology ought to be provided. Questions were raised over how this project could best be sold to the public and ultimately where the funding would come from.

The steering committee met on September 4, 2008 to assemble the final recommendations for both the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council. The analysis is broken into short/immediate and long term actions. The immediate goal is to optimize signal timing on Route 250, increase transit frequency to Pantops, and, most importantly, to add a 4-lane road between Rio Road and Route 20 into the long range transportation plan and designate the other two alternative s as “unfunded needs.” In the longer term, they would like to see the connector actually built and road corridors for the other alternatives designated in the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The case will be made for the connector with use of data collected from PBS&J for population, employment, and  traffic predictions for the next 20 years. Grimm stated that the bottom line is, “It will take you longer to get from point A to point B, regardless of what point A and B is,” even if these time differentials actually do vary considerably from place to place.  Although the committee is clear that there were no easy routes available, they will suggest the Rio Road connection to Route 20 via Pen Park as the recommended alignment a future Eastern Connector.

City Manager Gary O’Connell and Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert have decided to send Council a written report on the alignment study. Council can then decide whether they want to view the full presentation from Grimm.

Daniel Nairn

A "T" on a purple circle

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.