By. Neil Williamson, President
Last night (3/15) Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and City Council indicated their intention not to sign a letter endorsing a connection between McIntire Extended and 250 without an interchange. Sean Tubbs of Charlottesville Tomorrow has a very good post outlining the timeline of events leading up to this decision.
Before McIntire Extended can be constructed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must issue a permit declaring that the roadway’s impacts on historic and environmental resources have been adequately mitigated.
Last year, the Corps asked a question regarding the southern terminus of McIntire Extended; Would the road be connected if the McIntire/250 interchange was not built?
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) wrote Mayor Norris a letter on March 9th expressing their concern for the potential of losing very attractive bids on McIntire Road Extended if the Corps issue was not resolved. VDOT included a letter for Mayor Norris to sign indicating:
A grade-separated interchange at Route 250 is the City’s preferred option and we are working closely with the Federal Highway Administration to complete preliminary engineering and an Environmental Assessment. This approach merely confirms the City’s consistent position for almost 40 years that a complete transportation facility is constructed to connect the Meadowcreek Parkway to Route 250 through McIntire Park.
In the event that a grade-separated interchange is not built, an appropriately designed at-grade intersection constitutes an acceptable and realistic alternative.
Last night Mayor Norris said “No”. He indicated a majority on council believe the road project can not be built without the interchange.
At issue, of course, is attempts by the opponents of the three projects (Meadowcreek Parkway, McIntire/250 Interchange, McIntire Extended) to link all three as one project. As Will Goldsmith of C-ville Weekly reported last year:
The third portion is the split-grade interchange at 250, which will come last. City Council is expected to see a final design in the summer. Unlike the other sections, it was spawned by the federal government, in the form of a $27 million earmark in 2005 from former U.S. senator John Warner.
And therein lies the opponents’ opportunity. Federal money requires a different standard of review, particularly where public parks are concerned, and so the fact that the interchange segment extends into McIntire Park and seems to be connected to the McIntire Road Extended project, which didn’t get that higher level federal review, gives a legal wedge for termination.
Back in 2005, when City Council was concerned about the viability of an at grade intersection at McIntire Road and 250, the Free Enterprise Forum commissioned an engineering study of the intersection.
A new independent “Review of Reasonableness” report, conducted by Draper Aden Associates for the Free Enterprise Forum, examined traffic projections, analyses and intersection designs and concluded that an at-grade roundabout would “allow Meadowcreek Parkway to operate safely and efficiently in the near term.” The report also found importantly that the second project “with its own design utility can be built upon, rather than replace an at grade plan.”
The “Reasonableness” report identified that the state funded parkway project can function by itself. When approved and constructed, the separate, federally funded, interchange project will be a welcome addition to a road that has been on the books for over 37 years.
The report also concludes that the at-grade intersection concepts can be developed within the parkway project’s existing right-of-way.
The questions are back to the City:
How do the citizens of Charlottesville benefit by allowing the very attractive bids (more than $1 million under estimate) for McIntire Road Extended expire on March 31?
What City benefit will be served when Albemarle County opens their Meadowcreek Parkway segment and dumps all the resultant traffic onto Melbourne Road?
Why is City Council choosing to stand in the way of two funded, council approved transportation projects that will both improve transportation and serve as significant economic stimulus?
Is this the kind of coordinated regional cooperation citizens should expect in the future?
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org