By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The three components that make up the future

Meadowcreek Parkway

are all at various stages in the development process. While Albemarle County’s portion is under construction, the two elements to be built in Charlottesville are still in the planning process. All are scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2012.


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An October 2008 drawing of the selected interchange design. Click for a larger view.

The City’s Urban Construction Initiative Planner, Jeanette Janiczek, gave an update to Council at their meeting on June 15, 2009. She listed the various steps through which both

McIntire Road Extended

and the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange must pass before construction can get underway.

Janiczek said the

County’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway

began in January and is on schedule to be completed by October of 2011. Janiczek reminded Council that this portion of the road will not open until the two elements in the City are complete, with the exception of a three-week window where traffic will be routed along the alignment while its connection to East Rio Road is built.

Two items, Janiczek reported, need to be cleared up before the City’s portion of the Parkway, known as McIntire Road Extended, can be advertised for bids. The first is the resolution of the Section 106 process. That is the federally-mandated procedure where a road that will affect historic assets must be evaluated so that steps can be taken to mitigate those impacts.

“The scope of the project has been identified, the historic resources have been identified within that, and it looks like there’s an agreement that McIntire Park is the only affected historic resource,” Janiczek said. The Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies are currently working with the City of Charlottesville to develop a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) which will outline the steps that need to be taken to address the impact on the park.  Janiczek said the MOU would be available “shortly” but if that doesn’t happen, the project could be pushed back.

The second item is the acquisition of a parcel of land that is currently under the control of the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

. Negotiations are ongoing to coordinate the relocation of a utility easement for the Schenk’s Branch Interceptor with the road’s construction.

Janiczek said it would take a year to build the City’s portion as soon as the project is advertised and bids come back.

The Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange has several steps that must be completed before it can be advertised for bids. In August 2008, Council selected a grade-separated “signalized diamond” interchange as its preferred option, and Janiczek said that design is now 30% complete. That means that the actual locations of the various ramps are being oriented, and the environmental assessment documents are being updated as a result.

A design public hearing for the interchange is scheduled for late summer. Council will need to approve the final design when it is complete, and then right-of-way acquisition can begin. Janiczek said there may be as many as nine parcels of land that must be acquired to accommodate the interchange.

“Of these properties, if we assess the property, make a fair offer, and negotiations don’t reach a successful conclusion, then we may come before you again and request for condemnation proceedings,” Janiczek said.

Janiczek said City staff is also working with residents of Birdwood Road and Hillcrest Road to discuss how to address their concerns. The interchange will likely require the closing of Hillcrest Road. The interchange also must go through the Section 106 process because a historic landscape on the grounds of the former Rock Hill Academy and because McIntire Park will be affected.

If Council approves the final interchange design, purchases the right of way, and completes the Section 106 process for the interchange, Janiczek said construction on the interchange could begin in the summer of 2010. She said it will take two years to complete.

Before Janiczek’s presentation, Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert gave a history lesson on the reasons why a grade-separated interchange is to be built. In 1999, the City Council indicated it would support the construction of the Parkway, but only with certain conditions.

“One of the primary reasons for moving forward with [a grade-separated] interchange was the traffic that would be created [without it],” Tolbert said. Council’s initial approval was for a design that would have created an intersection that would have 17-lanes.

Tolbert showed a simulation

that depicted how vehicles traveling on the bypass would back up while waiting for traffic traveling through the Meadowcreek Parkway.

“Without an interchange, this is an intersection that would be terribly congested,” Tolbert said. Council decided to approve the Meadowcreek Parkway but only with a grade-separated interchange.  Former Senator John Warner was persuaded to secure a federal earmark of around $27 million to pay for the interchange.

One more hurdle that doesn’t affect the setting of advertising dates is the lawsuit filed by the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park. The community is awaiting a ruling from Judge Jay Swett, who heard six hours of arguments in the case on May 19, 2009. At issue is whether City Council’s conveyance of an easement on land in the County was legal. The Coalition sued the City and claim a supermajority of four votes is required to authorize the transfer of public land.

Another potential federal lawsuit regards the segmentation of the Meadowcreek Parkway into three projects. In that case, the road’s opponents claim that the project was illegally split into three in order to avoid federal regulations. That lawsuit has so far not yet been filed.

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