Sunday, December 11, 2011
Residents of Charlottesville’s Meadows neighborhood have expressed concern that their streets may be overwhelmed by traffic generated by the Stonefield commercial center currently under construction in Albemarle County.
“We’ve got a lot of concerns about people being tempted to avoid all of the traffic congestion,” said James Chang, president of the Meadows Neighborhood Association. “We all know that Hydraulic Road and U.S. 29 is not the best intersection to try to get through.”
Chang made his comments at City Council’s final neighborhood meeting of 2011 on Thursday. The events are designed to give residents a chance to ask questions of councilors and city staff in an informal setting.
The Meadows neighborhood is located in northwestern Charlottesville.
“We have always kind of felt like an orphan neighborhood,” Chang said. “We’re in between Georgetown Road, Hydraulic Road, U.S. 29 and Barracks Road.”Edens & Avant, the developer of Stonefield, expects to hold a grand opening for the first phase of the project in November 2012. That will include a movie theater, several restaurants and a Trader Joe’s grocery store.
One of the main entrances for Stonefield will be located directly across from Cedar Hill Road, a major thoroughfare in the Meadows neighborhood.
Chang said he is pleased with the work city staff have done to anticipate the problem. For instance, Cedar Hill Road will not be accessible for people coming out of Stonefield. Signs will be placed at other streets discouraging traffic from entering.
“We don’t want to have a perfect gated neighborhood or anything, but we don’t want to be overwhelmed by the traffic,” Chang said.City staff will conduct traffic counts in the spring to establish a baseline to see how Stonefield will affect neighborhood streets.
“Once [Stonefield] opens, we can have some really good data that if the traffic increases, we’ll know it and we’ll look at other measures,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
Problems at Michie Drive
Traffic concerns elsewhere in the neighborhood came up, as well.Sherman White called for the city to install a traffic light at the intersection of Michie Drive and Hydraulic Road. Michie Drive is a cul-de-sac that is home to several apartment complexes.White said those residents experience long waits to get onto Hydraulic.
“The amazing thing is that we can put a traffic light at Whole Foods, but we couldn’t put one down at Michie Drive,” White said. “I’m going to go to whoever I have to to make it happen.”
“It seems like a problem that has not been resolved,” White said. He said the simplest solution would be to install a traffic signal to allow Michie Drive residents to safely get onto Hydraulic.
“The problem is we have to go through a process when we’re putting in a traffic light,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. He added that the Virginia Department of Transportation has not yet been convinced there are enough reasons to justify a traffic light at that location.
Jones said another solution that has been considered is to build a road from Michie Drive to Hillsdale Drive Extended. However, he said that would be costly and would place a road right in the backyards of the apartment complexes.
Tolbert said one of the problems facing Michie Drive is that traffic flow on Hydraulic Road is nearly continuous.
“One of the culprits is when you come off the bypass, if you’re westbound coming onto Hydraulic, there’s a continuous right, so there’s never a gap in traffic to give you the opportunity to get out,” Tolbert said.
One solution may be a reconfiguration of the intersection of U.S. 250 and Hydraulic Road.
Richard Gibbs said he thought a proposal to build a second lane on the westbound ramp at the interchange of U.S. 29/250 and Emmet Street would be practical.
“I don’t see how you can put two lanes in there, not unless you put a light at the top, because [tractor-trailers] aren’t going to stop,” Gibbs said.
Tolbert said VDOT will be meeting with people in the neighborhood to talk about the improvement in the spring. The project had been a city-administered one until VDOT assumed control of it earlier this year.
Residents also asked for area sidewalks to be enhanced to improve safety.
“I would encourage the city to do as much as you can to make walking to our local stores easier, especially getting across U.S. 29,” said Mary Bennett. “This neighborhood is convenient to so many things but some of them are so hard to get to.”
City Councilor Kristin Szakos suggested the city could install a lighted pedestrian crosswalk across Hydraulic Road, but Tolbert said that would have to be initiated by Albemarle because the road is technically in the county.
Szakos also said the city and county should be planning for bridges to allow pedestrians to safely cross U.S. 29.
“Right now we don’t have the money for that but I’d like to see us look at it,” Szakos said.