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March 20, 2008

Oval roundabout preferred by 250 Interchange Steering Committee

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C1map
Alternative C1 was selected over G1 by the Committee

On a vote of 5-1-1, the committee overseeing the development of an interchange for the Route 250 Bypass and the future Meadowcreek Parkway has selected a large oval roundabout as its preferred alternative for connecting the two roads (Alternate C1). If the recommendation is accepted by City Council later this spring, the engineering firm RK&K will begin designing a detailed plan for the intersection, which would carry Route 250 over McIntire Road and the Parkway on an elevated bridge over the roundabout.

Although the plan includes a north-south pedestrian trail, committee member and former City Councilor John Conover said he could not support any of the two remaining alternatives because they did not go far enough in opening up the Park to pedestrians coming from downtown. Conover represents the Rivanna Trail Foundation on the committee, which has spent over two years evaluating alternatives. The other remaining alternative, G1, is similar to C1 but would feature a signalized diamond to move traffic on and off the bypass.

Additionally, a group of historic preservationists and opponents of the Meadowcreek Parkway are claiming that RK&K and the Committee did not go far enough when looking into the impacts on nearby historic resources.

This was the first committee meeting since the public hearing last November. Since that time, RK&K engineers and City Neighborhood and Development staff have been holding meetings with the historic preservationists to resolve some of the outstanding issues. According to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, any transportation improvement that uses federal funding must evaluate if any other reasonable alternative can be found. If not, Section 106 requires a plan for mitigating the effects on nearby historic resources.

The Section 106 “Consulting Parties” had the chance at the meeting to present their side to the Steering Committee. Rich Collins, representing Sensible Alternatives to the Meadowcreek Parkway (STAMP), read from an October letter from VHDR that stated that agency believed the impact on historical resources of the interchange and the parkway itself should be measured together. He claimed the FHWA and VHDR are still negotiating over this point.

Peery disputed that notion, and explained to Collins that the FHWA does in fact have the final say on the
Section 106 process.

“There is no discussion going on right now to my knowledge or will be going on between the FHWA and VDHR about what constitutes this project,” Peery said. He went on to say that the FHWA answered the letter by saying they stood behind their decision to treat the projects as separate.

Peery
Owen Peery of RK&K reviews the ten alternatives proposed for the interchange

Before entering into a full status report of the ongoing Section 106 process, Project Director Owen Peery of RK&K described that the interchange process has always taken historic resources into account. He said the Committee had previously eliminated two larger alternatives that would have forced the removal of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He also said that RK&K has been concurrently working with representatives of the Dogwood Memorial and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post that operate the memorial. Two concepts are being shown to that group to show how the memorial would be affected by Alternatives C1 and G1.
Mike Svetz, Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Director said the issue is also related to the McIntire Park master planning process which is currently ongoing.

Lynch asked if the team has been able to establish whether the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was in fact the first in the nation, as its organizers have claimed. RKK Engineer Eric Almquist, who is supervising the Section 106 process for the firm, said they could not find any proof, but were treating the memorial as if it were the first.

As part of the Section 106 process, Peery says RK&K looked at ten potential alternatives to the Interchange that would serve the purposes of the project. These include using Grove Road to siphon traffic away, a 24-lane at-grade intersection, as well as improvements to the existing Park Street interchange.

Only two of these were considered to be reasonable alternatives – close the western ramps leading to and from Park Street, and aggressively pursue efforts to move people onto public transit.
Almquist said that Section 106 encourages but does not mandate historic preservation.  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) coordinates with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR), but makes the final decisions on whether the project  team considered other alternatives, established a list of what properties would be affected, and how the effects would be mitigated.  The end product of the Section 106 process is a Memorandum of Agreement that outlines steps that will be taken to reduce the impacts.

View
A view from the Rock Hill Academy site looking back to Route 250. Daniel Bluestone said the site is home to one of the region's most complex garden system (Image courtesy Daniel Bluestone)

As part of the three Section 106 meetings, the site of the former Rock Hill Academy was added to the list of affected properties. Located in the northeast corner of the proposed interchange, the Academy was set up as a school for white children when Charlottesville City schools closed in the mid-fifties rather than accept black students.  As such, the Academy is little-known today, and the property is owned by the Monticello Area Community Action Agency and assessed at $1.9 million, according to Mike Svetz.

Daniel Bluestone, a historic preservationist and associate professor at the University of Virginia, presented the Committee with images of the historic resources that he said were on every quadrant of the interchange. He suggested the interchange would be smaller if the committee had taken a full look at those resources. After giving a history lesson on how philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire donated the land in 1926 for the park to preserve the region’s agricultural past, Bluestone also showed slides of the remnants of the historical garden complex that predates the Academy but is largely forgotten today. Bluestone is representing Piedmont Preservation as a consulting party.

“One of the charges for your committee was to figure out good pedestrian and bicycle access into McIntire Park,” Bluestone said. “If you took seriously the mitigation and historic resources this is the place that you should be going through the park. Not through the middle of this interchange… You have an incredibly rich landscape. You have a historic park. You have the most important garden landscape in Charlottesville. You have the McIntire High School [now the Covenant School] and the houses on top of Park Hill… These historic resources should have been understood at the beginning of the process, not at the end.”

Another consulting party, City resident and historic preservationist Mary Howard, said the interchange alternatives were too big and more suitable for an urban environment such as in D.C. or Baltimore.

“We need to answer some questions about traffic, yes, but to put this style and this scale interchange into a historic district is just inappropriate,” she said. Howard is also with the

Almquist said RK&K will continue to work on the minimization and mitigation that could be done, and will also continue to fine-tune the pedestrian and bike trails as part of the continuing Section 106 process.
“We’ve done a good faith effort, we believe, to look at whatever we can to try and minimize [effects],” Almquist said.

Peery said the Committee needed to make a decision in order to move the process along. He had hoped to have one preferred alternative last summer, but the selection process was delayed as the Section 106 process continued.

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who was appointed on March 17 to serve on the committee as a citizen at-large, said he wanted to see more information on how the effects on historic resources would be mitigated or lessened. Peery said details on mitigation would come during further design of the alternative, which will not occur until after City Council selects one preferred alternative.  He said mitigation would be the number one subject at the Steering Committee’s next meeting.

Hodous_2
Robert Hodous

Lynch said he supported taking a look at using the Rock Hill Academy site as an entrance. Committee  member Bob Hodous represents the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, and he said he had been aware of the historic aspects of the interchange site, but appreciated Bluestone’s presentation. City Planning Commissioner Cheri Lewis said she also supported using the site.   “It’s an asset that could open up this park and could mitigate the effects of an asphalt interchange nearby,” Lewis said.

As the time for the meeting ran out, Angela Tucker asked the Committee if they wanted to hold another meeting to make the decision, but Peery said he wanted a decision on the spot. Peter Kleeman of STAMP urged the committee to delay a decision until after the Section 106 process was fully complete.

Lynch said he preferred Alternative C1, but wanted to hold back on making an official decision out of a concern that the mitigation information would not be completed. “In my experience, if we just go forward and say we’ll work out the details later, my experience is that’s not as likely to happen,” Lynch said.  “My concern about saying we endorse C1 is that it gets cost-reduced and we end up with something we wouldn’t necessarily be proud of.”

However, Conover said he couldn’t support  either alternative because neither had gone far enough to open up pedestrian and bicycles to McIntire Park. He said the roundabouts did not appear to be safe, and that he would prefer crosswalks at signalized intersections because traffic stops.

“I guess I would be in favor of giving more access to pedestrians and bicycles, and if that’s at the expense of cars, fine,” Conover said. He suggested he could accept a smaller interchange.

Peery said the project budget did not anticipate the purchase of the Rock Hill site, but that the City could choose to purchase the property as a separate project in the future.

The members of the Committee spent some time discussing the timing of mitigation, and wrote a motion advancing C1 as their preferred alternative, with the condition that steps will be taken to lessen the impact on the historical resources. 

Hodous said the Steering Committee would continue to be involved while the design phase proceeds, and he moved forward the motion. Councilor Satyendra Huja abstained. Farruggio, Lewis, Richard Berman, Lynch and Hodous voted yes, while Conover vote no.  Leigh Middleditch indicated his support for C1 in writing before the meeting, and three committee members were absent.

Sean Tubbs

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