By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Monday, the

Charlottesville City Council

voted 3-2 to approve a design for an interchange to connect the

Meadowcreek Parkway

with Route 250 and McIntire Road, despite concerns from some in the community that it does not provide grade-separated pedestrian and bike access to

McIntire Park

.

The project will move forward after a memorandum of agreement is signed which lists how impacts to the park and other historic resources will be mitigated, and after the project is fully designed.


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Council signs off on interchange after design tweaks



Since Council’s last meeting on the topic, several aspects of the design have been changed to satisfy their wishes. These changes include:

Other requests were analyzed but not integrated into the design. In November, Council directed staff and project consultant RK&K to investigate two other ways to make the interchange safer for pedestrians.





Conceptual drawing showing what the interchange might look like looking south (Click for larger image)


One was a possible tunnel underneath the on-ramps leading to Route 250. Jim Tolbert, the City’s Director of Neighborhood Development, said the idea is not feasible because such a structure would be too long and potentially unsafe.

The other way was to build a pedestrian bridge north of the interchange that would allow people to walk across the parkway. Citing research from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Tolbert explained that staff feels not enough pedestrians would use it to justify building it at this time. However, he said the project would be addressed in the McIntire Park master planning process.

“As we do the master plan and look towards where the trail systems might go, there might very well be a good location to cross the parkway,” Tolbert said.







Conceptual drawing for Harris Street intersection, which has not been fully designed yet (Source: RK&K)


Another issue to be resolved is a design for a new intersection of Harris Street and McIntire Road. Tolbert said the new design must reduce the amount of asphalt at the intersections. Norris said he would have preferred those improvements to be considered along with interchange. Tolbert said that Council will see those plans as soon as they are developed.

The

Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad

will be able to control the traffic signals to allow their emergency vehicles to access the interchange. If that solution does not work, Peery said a special emergency-only vehicle exit could be constructed at a later date.


Public comment

The public hearing on the interchange was held on October 29, 2009, so those who wanted to comment had to speak during Council’s general public comment opportunity.

James Schisler said the Meadowcreek Parkway is necessary to provide relieve to a congested Park Street and Rio Road.

City resident Patricia Napoleon called for a referendum on the entire project. County resident David Steinberg said there was no need to build more infrastructure for cars because the era of the automobile was coming to a close.

City resident and transportation activists called for an interchange that would clearly separate cars from bikes and pedestrians. City resident Randy Salzman said doing so would encourage more people to use alternative forms of transportation.

Daniel Bluestone, whose home is near the interchange, claimed that the design would not be accepted by federal highway officials. Colette Hall, president of the

North Downtown Residents Association

, said the price of the project was going to be well over $33 million, and that figure would not include the cost of mitigating the project’s impacts on historic resources.


Questions remain regarding mitigation to historic resources

At Monday’s meeting, critics of the plan argued that Council should not approve the interchange until the public has a chance to scrutinize a document that will lay out how the project’s impacts to McIntire Park and other historic resources will be mitigated. A memorandum of agreement (MOA) listing specific actions has not yet been signed by the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR).

“Isn’t it premature for us to approve a design before the MOA has been finalized and we know what the mitigation costs will be?” asked Mayor Dave Norris.





Owen Peery appears before Council


Owen Peery, project manager for RK&K, said that the MOA is in final draft, which means that all the federal and state oversight bodies agree on the various mitigating steps. Council will have to approve the MOA before the project can go to bid.

Charlottesville Tomorrow has obtained a copy of the draft MOA from July 2009, as well as letters from the ACHP and VHDR giving their feedback.

The following is a summary of recommended mitigation techniques which will be overseen by the Federal Highway Administration.

The ACHP in a letter dated October 30, 2009 called for the following steps to be added to the MOA:

VDHR has agreed with the recommendations made by ACHP. A final draft MOA which incorporates feedback from the ACHP and the VHDR is in development but has not yet been obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow.




Download the July 2009 Draft Memorandum of Agreement




Download the October 30, 2009 letter from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation




Download the November 16, 2009 letter from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources


Council approves interchange; Norris seeks more answers









Mayor Dave Norris


Council approved the interchange design on a 3-2 vote with Norris and Councilor

Holly Edwards

voting against. However, Norris acknowledged that the interchange will provide better access to McIntire Park for pedestrians and cyclists.

Councilor

Satyendra Huja

said the project has been discussed and designed for over 40 years.

“Given the need has been identified, I think this is the best we could do right now,” Huja said.

After the vote, parkway opponent

Peter Kleeman

said he was concerned that the project was not fully funded. He said there was a least a $1 million shortfall that he said could climb higher when all of the mitigation steps are fully identified.

“It appears to me that the material that has been presented to you is a bit rosy in saying that all of these loose ends have been tied together,” Kleeman said.

Council’s resolution on Monday authorized City Manager Gary O’Connell to sign the MOA when it is finished. Signatures by the various consulting parties (including Kleeman’s, Hall’s and Bluestone’s who are consulting parties) are not required for the MOA to go into effect.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Norris asked staff to report back on the status of the memorandum of understanding as well as the alleged $1 million funding gap.

In an interview Wednesday with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Tolbert said when the entire federal earmark of $27 million is factored in with revenue sharing money from VDOT, the project’s fund balance is $700,000 over the cost estimate. He said the City has applied for revenue sharing money from VDOT that has also helped fund the project.


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