The committee overseeing the
Eastern Connector Corridor Study
has eliminated another possible alternative for the proposed road, which has been proposed to relieve traffic congestion on Route 29 North and on Route 250 near Pantops by providing an alternate connection between these two areas. The committee unanimously voted to remove from consideration a design alternative that would have accomplished the study’s objectives by building a new bridge over the Rivanna River into Charlottesville, and by making intersection improvements along 250.
The Committee also heard cost estimates for the first time:
Much of the meeting was spent discussing what will be presented to the community at two upcoming public input meetings. The first will be held at Baker-Butler Elementary on November 28 beginning at 7:00 PM, and the second will be held in the second floor lobby in the Albemarle County Office Building on November 29.
, Chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said a “key issue” was to show the public why the road would be needed. Lewis Grimm, project manager for consulting firm PBS&J, said the information that would be presented to the public would offer traffic and population projections to make the case for the road.
“There’s been significant observed growth in the past five years, there’s been substantial growth in population and employment,” Grimm said. “Associated with that is projected increases in traffic, particularly across the river. All things considered there seems to be a need to continue with this work.”
But Boyd said the main purpose of the Eastern Connector study is to find the road that will have the most effect in terms of relieving traffic on Route 250.
Charlottesville City Planning Commissioner Mike Faruggio joined the committee for the first time at this meeting. He replaced Jon Fink, who stepped down from the Commission earlier this fall.
expressed the concern that of the three alternatives being shown for Alternative 13, the Pen Park route, none showed the alignment that went along an existing service road. The consultant has developed three other alignments with detailed engineering drawings. One of these runs slightly to the east of the route Lynch supported at the October steering committee meeting, and the other two traverse the northern and southern edges of the park.
“I don’t think any of those are workable,” Lynch said, and asked the consultant to consider depicting only the conceptual drawing at the public information, and only depicting the central alignment through the park. If the road goes through the park, the federal government will have to be convinced that the benefit to the area’s transportation network outweighs the impact to environmental and cultural resources.
The committee debated the issue for a few minutes. John Pfaltz, who serves on the panel as a citizen representative of the City, said he thought the public should see the most viable of all the Pen Park options. Lewis Grimm of PBS&J said he thought they could demonstrate that a Pen Park solution could be proven as the most effective with respect to taking traffic off of 250, but that federal approval would be hard to come by.
Two options will be considered for the Polo Grounds road option. In both, the road will cross the railroad, but the question is whether the grade separation will be via an underpass or an overpass. Going underneath the railroad would be significantly more expensive, with a cost estimate of over $84 million for the whole alternative. Going over the tracks would cost over $57 million alternative.
“It’s one of those toss-ups of where you want to spend the money,” said Grimm. He pointed out that the full costs would not be known until detailed engineering work could be done.
The real discussion of the day came in respect to the alternative that was eliminated from consideration. At the October meeting, Alternative 3 was redeveloped to incorporate both improvements to Route 250 as well as a second bridge south of the Rivanna River to divert traffic into the City. Several committee members expressed the concern that this route would not serve as an eastern connector, though it technically meets the scope of the Eastern Connector Location Study.
Ken Boyd of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors said he wanted to see how much traffic that option would take off of Route 250, but agreed that it may not be a viable option to move forward as part of the Eastern Connector study.
John Pfaltz made a motion to strike Alternative 3 from consideration, because he thought it presented unacceptable changes. He said he did not think it was feasible to remove left-hand turns lanes from eastbound traffic on Route 250 onto River Road, given that the area had several industrial sites that trucks would need access to.
Mark Graham, Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development, said that he was concerned that the committee was putting too much stock on the Pen Park route.
“When I look at the traffic numbers, Proffit Road doesn’t really do anything for you, Polo Grounds Roads doesn’t do anything for you. Pen Park will do something for you, but you have a major environmental hurdle,” said Graham.
The committee reached consensus that a southern bridge may be a viable way to relieve rush hour congestion on Free Bridge, but that was not the point of the Eastern Connector. But, Jack Kelsey, Albemarle’s Transportation Engineer, made the motion that Alternative 3 be removed, but that the possibility of a future southern bridge be recommended for consideration at a later date, as part of a separate study. The committee took a vote, and all approved of the motion.
The Pantops Master Plan, which has not yet been adopted by Albemarle County, depicts two possible future transportation corridors. One would align with the Pen Park route, and the other would align with the southern bridge option. The Pantops Master Plan also anticipates that Route 250 through Pantops will eventually be expanded to six-lanes. The request for proposals that set the Eastern Connector study in motion contains this language:
“The successful project will result in the design of several alternative road alignments that will provide a connection between US 250 east of Route 20 and US 29 between Rio Road and Proffit Road.”
Thirteen options have now been whittled down to three, but until the City Council and Board of Supervisors approve of a preferred alternative, any route can be reconsidered.
The road would be a two-lane “collector type route” with pedestrian and biking trails. Grimm said it would have a variable design speed, based on the section of the route.