The final segment of the long-planned Meadow Creek Parkway has cleared its last procedural hurdle and construction may begin in early 2013.
“The advertisement for construction ran on Sunday and bids are due on December 18, 2012,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services.
The project will connect McIntire Road with the city’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway, and will provide a grade-separated interchange between the parkway and the U.S. 250 bypass.
VDOT’s cost estimate for the project is $33.5 million and the bulk of funding comes through two federal earmarks secured by former U.S. Senator John Warner.
City Council chose a design for the interchange in June 2008 following a long process overseen by a steering committee. Council granted its final approval in December 2009 and the Federal Highway Administration signed off with its support in September 2010.
However, the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park filed suit against the FHWA claiming that the agency’s “finding of no significant impact” violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Judge Norman K. Moon sided with the FHWA in a ruling handed down in late May.
“The Coalition failed to save the park from this project, but its effort resulted in a significantly less damaging project and negotiated a project more respectful of the impacted historical, recreational and environmental resources in and near McIntire Park,” said Peter Kleeman, a member of the coalition.
VDOT and the city have agreed to document the current state of McIntire Park and provide educational materials about the history of cultural resources affected by the interchange.
Since the ruling was issued, the city has been finalizing the purchase of right of way and completing paperwork required by the FHWA before construction bids could be advertised.
“I am very pleased that the project has reached this milestone,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker. “The interchange would be needed even if the Meadow Creek Parkway were not built, but it also will provide a terrific pedestrian and bicycle entry to the park.”
The county’s portion of the parkway, now known as the John Warner Parkway was opened to traffic in January. The city’s 0.4 mile long portion through McIntire Park is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2013. It can’t open until the interchange is complete.
“These projects have been the chamber’s three highest priority transportation projects for many years,” said Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The parkway was first proposed in 1967, and the final piece will soon be under construction.”
“It’s a lifeline into the city to keep the city downtown area vibrant and it’s going to help people come into the city and work by providing a direct route,” said Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas.
However, that view was not shared by City Councilor Dave Norris, a staunch opponent of the Meadow Creek Parkway.
“Once the Parkway is finished, the community will decide if it was worth the sacrifice of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and many acres of green space,” Norris said. “If it as successful in boosting the downtown economy and improving traffic flows on Park Street, Rio Rd. and the 250 Bypass as its supporters have long argued, then opponents like me will rightly be served up heaping plates of crow. And if I weren’t a vegetarian I’d probably feel compelled to eat some.”
Kleeman said he felt the money would be better spent elsewhere in Virginia and that the interchange would make traffic conditions worse during and after construction.
“Current congestion on both Park Street and McIntire Road – the two roads that would connect to downtown Charlottesville from Rio Road and the John Warner Parkway and traffic over the Free Bridge will only be increased,” Kleeman said.
The city’s parks department is already preparing to transition the McIntire Skate Park from its current location to its new home at the southern end of McIntire Park.
“We have determined to keep the skate park open as long as we can through the winter months so that there is not a lengthy break in service at the facility,” said parks director Brian Daly. “We will monitor the progress of the bidding, contract negotiations and scheduling of construction over the next 60-90 days.”
Daly said he hopes to limit the closing of the skate park to no more than two weeks.
A pre-bid meeting will be held on December 4 at City Hall.
The bid documents state that work is expected to commence on February 1 and that the project must be finished by May 31, 2015. The city is offering up to a $500,000 incentive for a contractor who can finish the work ahead of that time.