The Charlottesville City Council has directed the engineering team designing the interchange of the future Meadowcreek Parkway with the Route 250 Bypass to further refine a modified version of Alternate G1. Under that scenario, motorists driving north and south along the Parkway would have to travel through two traffic lights that would regulate traffic entering and exiting the ramps from an elevated Route 250 Bypass.
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This alternative was modified after Council expressed reservations about the size and potential cost of the conceptual design recommended by the 250 Interchange Steering Committee . That design (Alternate C1) used an oval roundabout to ferry Parkway traffic underneath Route 250. Councilors were concerned about the safety of cyclists through the roundabout, and also wanted to find ways to trim the project in order to stay within the $27 million earmark provided by Senator John Warner for the project. After a two and a half hour discussion and public hearing on April 22, 2008, they opted to hold a work session to further discuss the interchange .
The engineering firm RK&K was prepared for the June 4, 2008 work session, and offered a series of refinements of both C1 and G1 that reduced the size of the bridge. They prepared conceptual drawings which moved the north-south bike-pedestrian trail slightly closer to McIntire Road. That would allow the bridge carrying Route 250 to be slightly smaller, potentially reducing the cost of the project.
At the work session, Council also heard from Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert, who related the history of the Parkway since 1999. That’s when Mayor Virginia Daugherty sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation expressing Council’s demand that the Meadowcreek Parkway be built as a two-lane road rather than with four lanes. Another requirement was that the interchange be built with no more than 17 lanes. The existing intersection has 13 lanes of traffic, and is prone to long delays during peak hours.
Tolbert pointed out that the accident rate at the existing intersection of McIntire Road and Route 250 is three times the statewide average, a figure that could climb if projections of higher traffic volumes are borne out. In December 2000, Mayor Blake Caravati raised the idea of a grade-separated interchange to avoid those issues, and the firm Rieley and Associates began designing a series of potential alternatives.
That process began in earnest after the federal earmark was obtained, and the 250 Interchange Steering Committee was formed. After they recommended Alternate C1, Councilor David Brown said he still needed to see a better visual depiction of how the interchange would look. Another former Mayor, Kay Slaughter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, echoed Brown’s concerns.
Owen Peery of RK&K began his presentation to Council by showing a new video depicting a bird’s eye view of both Alternates C1 and G1, from a fairly high viewpoint. He also presented new perspectives of how the interchange designs would look from the Monticello Community Action Agency, the Vietnam Memorial, and the other two quadrants of the interchange.
Peery also spent some time explaining how cyclists would navigate through the roundabouts in Alternate C1, but the issue continued to meet opposition from Councilors.
Another item for discussion was the height of the Route 250 bridge. Many opponents of the Parkway and the Interchange have argued a bridge 30 feet above the existing roadway would create more noise and would be aesthetically unappealing.
An RK&K engineer explained that the ultimate bridge style selected by Council would affect the height of the bridge. An arch-style structure would mean a taller bridge, and a flatter bridge would allow for something with a smaller profile.
“We’ve tried to maintain this 30 feet so all types of bridges that are conceivable could possibly still be looked at in the future,” Peery said. “If we’re willing to move away from that arch, this bridge drops to about 25 feet.”
However, Peery was not able to present Council with any examples of how a non-arch bridge might look, but said he would provide that to Council in the near future. Peery said arched bridges would be more expensive, as well.
Peery detailed several changes that had been made to both Alternates. In one, the trail was placed closer to the roadway, based on a suggestion made by Mayor Norris. In the other, the ramps connecting the Parkway/McIntire Road to Route 250 were moved much closer to the Route 250 to provide for smaller ramps.
Peery said there were many advantages to moving the trail closer to the roadway. First, it would eliminate two ramp bridges needed to carry vehicular traffic over the pedestrian trail, possibly saving nearly $1 million. Second, it would shorten the Route 250 bridge span by about 100 feet. Third, a smaller portion of Schenk’s Branch would need to be relocated.
However, Peery said the tighter ramps, which would place the signalized intersections closer to the bridge, would likely not move enough traffic through the interchange and would not be feasible. They would also require large retaining walls in order to provide steeper slopes for vehicles to get to the bypass, as well as to prevent a relocation of the Vietnam Memorial. Peery said these walls would be expensive and would negate any savings obtained with the shorter bridge.
Several Councilors indicated their support for the modified G1 that placed the trails closer to the roadway. A discussion about the pedestrian bridge to be built to the north of the interchange was cut off after Councilor Brown said that was a decision that could wait for another day. Councilor Satyendra Huja questioned the $500,000 estimate for the bridge provided by Peery.
Other details, such as how the pedestrian trail will intersect with the existing Schenk’s Branch greenway along McIntire Road, will wait until a future discussion is held. At that time, RK&K will have more information and more examples. They’ll also come back with more information about bridge styles and designs. Council will take formal action on selecting an alternative at a meeting later this summer, according to Mayor Dave Norris.
City Manager Gary O’Connell also asked for guidance from Council on the status of their decision to convey of a temporary construction easement for VDOT to build the Parkway in McIntire Park. In October 2007, a previous Council stated they would not allow the easement to be granted until three conditions were met .
First, VDOT must certify that the City has been given the 49 acres of replacement parkland, something O’Connell said that would happen within the next month. Second, Council had to approved a storm water management plan, and Council approved a conceptual plan in May. Third, VDOT had to provide written confirmation they would not build an at-grade intersection, something O’Connell said VDOT would provide shortly.
“Within the next month or so, those conditions would be met that would authorize the signature of that construction easement,” O’Connell said. He added that Albemarle County has adopted a resolution in response to each one of those expectations.
O’Connell said the target date for advertisement for construction of the project may be delayed until spring of next year. But he added Council’s work session will move the project along by providing details RK&K can use to provide a more accurate cost estimate.
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