(left to right) Mayor Brown and Councilors Kendra Hamilton and Dave Norris
The Charlottesville City Council wants the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution affirming their commitment to building and funding a regional transportation network before they will be willing to proceed with construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway .
On the agenda for the July 16, 2007 City Council meeting was a request from staff to grant a temporary construction easement to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) while the agency makes preparations to accept bids for the City’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway project. Under the terms of the deal, VDOT will pay $1 for full access to 22.21 acres of the eastern section of the park during construction.
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The City Council gave tentative approval of the Parkway in 2000, provided that a set of twelve conditions were met. Since that time, many of the criteria have been satisfied. For instance, the scope of the Parkway has been narrowed to be a two-lane highway with a maximum design speed of no more than 37.25 miles per hour, as well as a grade-separated interchange where it intersects with the 250 Bypass. But, the City also wanted to see the County to assist funding for a regional road network to include the Eastern Connector so that the Meadowcreek Parkway did not serve as a conduit for traffic between Route 29 North and the Pantops area.
In letter dated January 20, 2006, Mayor David Brown gave an update on the conditions to VDOT’s Greg Whirley and Dennis Rooker of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. “The City expects to see a funding commitment for the Southern Parkway by VDOT and/or the County by 2008 before construction begins on the parkway,” Brown also wrote in the letter that both the City and the County are helping to fund an ongoing alignment study for the proposed Eastern Connector .
Another of the City’s criteria involves the replacement of parkland. The City has asked for 50 acres of replacement parkland to make up for that which will be taken up by the roadway.
At the July 16 meeting, Jim Tolbert of Neighborhood Development Services gave a new update on the project to Council. He said the project is now fully-funded according to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s Six Year Plan. The multiuse trail requested by Council is now to be built at a width of ten feet. All construction plan sheets will alert the contractor of the boundaries of the Vietnam War Memorial, and these dimensions will also be staked in the field as well. He said VDOT has been taking steps to purchase the right of way for replacement parkland, but that the transactions are not yet complete. Advertisement for construction bids are scheduled to go out in June of next year.
Tolbert also said no action was required at the meeting, but the packet for the board meeting did include the legal documents required for the granting of the easement.
CONCERNS FROM CITY COUNCIL
Councilor Kevin Lynch said he still had reservations about the status of three of the City’s criteria. Before he votes to grant an easement, he said he wants to see a final design for the interchange, wants to see the parkland easements finalized, and wants a commitment from the County to pursue the regional network.
“VDOT has acquired one of several parcels they said they would buy us in exchange for this easement, but they’ve not acquired all of them,” Lynch said. “When VDOT has acquired all of these parcels, and when we have assurances from the County that all of these parcels have been acquired, that’s when we should say we’ll trade you the easement for them.”
Lynch, a member of the Eastern Connector steering committee, expressed concern that it is proceeding too slowly. “I’m not impressed by the County’s commitment to this project. My sense from serving on that committee is that it exists mostly to figure out ways not to build the Eastern Connector, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that there is a Board of Supervisor Members who say it isn’t going to happen. ” He also doubted whether the County was committed to the Southern Parkway.
“The Southern Parkway may be on the list of the County’s secondary road projects, but it was on that list before I got on Council but it hasn’t gotten a bit of funding,” he said. “There is no commitment by the County to a regional transportation network, or none that I’ve seen.” He said Council should see an alignment for the Eastern Connector as well as funding plan for the Southern Parkway before it grants permission for construction to begin.
Lynch serves with fellow Councilor Dave Norris as the City’s representatives to the Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) . The MPO most recently established regional transportation goals and priorities when it approved the United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan (UnJAM 2025) in May 2004. Both the Southern Parkway and the Eastern Connector are priority projects in UnJAM 2025 and in the County’s 2007 Six-Year Secondary Road Plan. In their FY2008 budget, the County Board of Supervisors allocated $2 million for critical transportation projects. Albemarle has increased its funding of transportation projects as the state’s contributions to the secondary road fund have decreased. However, with limited funds available and escalating project costs, in January 2007 the Supervisors agreed to focus their funding on three of the sixty-nine projects in the County’s Six-Year Plan: the Meadowcreek Parkway ; Jarman’s Gap Rd ; and Georgetown Rd .
Councilor Norris asked Tolbert if he knew of any plans by the County to fund the Eastern Connector. “I’ve heard in public forums that the County doesn’t envision securing sufficient funding to build the Eastern Connector at any point in the near future.” Tolbert said road-building in Virginia is problematic because of state-funding issues, but that he had not heard the County was going to not pursue funding.
Norris expressed the concern that the Meadowcreek Parkway would increase through-traffic in the City’s residential neighborhoods as County residents used it to travel between growth areas in the County. He wanted Tolbert’s opinion on whether Biscuit Run and other large development projects were factored into the planning studies for the Meadowcreek Parkway. Tolbert responded that traffic studies used as part of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s CHART study take land use planning into account.
“When those types of models are run, they anticipate development in the growth area based on the land use plan, not necessarily what’s there or known about. They may not have known about that significant development per se, but it would have anticipated a development at a certain level in the urban ring.” But Tolbert said he didn’t have the specifics.
Councilor Kendra Hamilton said she was confident VDOT was acting in good faith to acquire the parkland, but did say the regional road network issues needed to be resolved. She cited a 2004 resolution adopted by the County Board of Supervisors that endorsed the City’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway.
“I would be satisfied if they were to pass a similar resolution on the regional road network. We may not be able to get alignments in place, but a resolution has the force of law saying that they are going to be looking at taking these actions.”
Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he was also concerned about the County’s commitment to a regional road network, but was more concerned that the intersection at Melbourne Road might defeat the whole purpose of the Parkway. Lynch agreed, and said that Melbourne Road should have been addressed in the City’s original criteria.
Councilor Norris defended the County’s commitment to regional transportation network. “I think the whole CHART process was a way of the County committing to a vision for the regional road network,” he said. “I would like to see that sort of commitment be extended to beefing up the regional transit system.” Earlier in the meeting, Council accepted $250,000 in County funding from the Board of Supervisors to pay for service expansions to the Charlottesville Transit Service.
Lynch pointed to the Southern Parkway as an example of a road project the County is reluctant to fund, even though there’s an alignment on the books. “The reason the County doesn’t want to build it is twofold. Number one, the development has already happened there so they don’t get any new development dollars out of it. And number two, now that development has already happened, there are neighbors who don’t want the traffic,” Lynch said. “The time for resolutions of support has passed and we need to see some concrete evidence the County can do transportation planning,” Lynch said.
Mayor Brown disagreed, and asked Mr. Tolbert and City Manager Gary O’Connell to come up with a strongly worded resolution to present to the County regarding the status of the Eastern Connector. Brown also said he wanted Tolbert to give Council a timeline of when the various parcels of parkland will be acquired.
A RESPONSE FROM THE COUNTY
Albemarle County Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett District) said he could not comment on any proposed resolution without seeing its language, but said the County has shown a “substantial commitment” to a regional transportation network.
“We have a 20 year road plan, which is a result of work by the CHART Committee approved by the MPO,” on whose policy board Rooker serves alongside Councilors Lynch and Norris. Rooker says said the County and the City offer examples to the rest of the state for cooperative transportation planning.
“We’re the only community in the state that has allowed proffers from development to be spent in another locality,” Rooker said. He said money proffered from the Albemarle Place development will be spent to build an additional lane on US 29 north of the 250 Interchange. He also cited $1 million dollars in proffers made by the developers of Biscuit Run to go towards transit projects, as well as additional money to help pay for improvements on Old Lynchburg Road within City limits.
Rooker said the slow pace of road projects in the area can be blamed on a lack of state funding. Each year, the County gets $3.7 million in road funding from the state each year. Rooker says the County has slowly been accruing enough money to pay for its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. But, he says future road projects will be harder to pay for.
“I’ve been a big supporter of the Eastern Connector, but at this point, no one can identify funding sources for construction. Now, we’re willing to work with the City to find a way.” Both jurisdictions have contributed $250,000 for a corridor location study. Road connections in the southern part of Albemarle County’s growth area may likely end up being paid for by developers through proffers.
But Rooker said the City’s continued request for demands is not a good way to build trust between communities. He says the City and County have both worked too hard to obtain money to pay for the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange to set more conditions now.
“I think too often there’s an us-against-them mentality that surfaces between the City and the County, and there’s a kind of pervasive view that the County is spurring all this growth and it is negatively impacting the City,” Rooker said. “In fact, residential growth in the County financially benefits the City because they don’t have to provide services.”
This was a point Rooker made directly to Lynch and Norris at a MPO meeting this past February. During discussions of the Biscuit Run project Rooker encouraged City Council to invest some of the funds it receives from Albemarle as part of the 1982 revenue sharing agreement ($13.21 million in FY08) into regional transportation infrastructure. Earlier that month, Lynch had given the County a one-month ultimatum to demonstrate it was serious about building the Fontaine-Sunset Connector. Lynch wanted Biscuit Run proffer dollars to build that connector road, otherwise, he said City Council might entertain closing Old Lynchburg Road at the County line.
Selected Highlights from the Discussion: