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March 04, 2008

City Council: No Eastern Connector alignment through Charlottesville

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The Charlottesville City Council wants the consultant overseeing the Eastern Connector alignment study to eliminate options that involve widening the Route 250 bypass or building new bridges heading onto the City of Charlottesville. Council agreed at their meeting on March 3rd to send a letter to Lewis Grimm of PBS&J outlining their views.

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The City and the County each contributed $250,000 to the study, which has been underway since December of 2006. The steering committee overseeing the study last met in February, and directed Grimm to revisit several options that had previously been tabled.

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris brought the matter up under other business, and asked Neighborhood and Community Development Services Director Jim Tolbert to explain why the City is concerned about some of the alternatives that are being moved forward.

“If you remember, the Eastern Connector objectives where to find a way to move traffic from 29 North and Pantops back and forth without going through the center of Charlottesville,” Tolbert said. But Tolbert said PBS&J’s latest report recommends four alternatives that are not acceptable to the City. These include widening Free Bridge, widen the Route 250 bypass through the City, build a new bridge from the Pantops Shopping Center to High Street, or build a new bridge north of the Free Bridge.

“We were concerned that those completely ignored and took the focus off of what the real study was supposed to look at,” Tolbert said. He added that those options should be outside the scope of the Eastern Connector study, and sought an opinion from Council. “There may not be an alternative that accomplishes the goals of the Eastern Connector, and if so, we need to know that.”

Norris asked his fellow councilors if they thought the consultant should be told to examine other options, accept the recommendations as information, or declare the Eastern Connector study to be over.

“I think we need to state the fact that we don’t want another road coming through the City,” said Councilor Julian Taliaferro. “That would defeat the whole purpose of building connector roads.” Taliaferro asked how the consultant had strayed from the original scope of the study.

Tolbert said he thought PBS&J is confronting an issue of basic geography. “I think our traffic engineer would tell you that if you look at the numbers, the Eastern Connector could have a place as the most important road that could be built to relieve traffic in Charlottesville, but there’s nowhere to put it. The County has allowed development to occur in the last 25 years essentially in every feasible place that we’d put it,” Tolbert said.

“Our $250,000 is not speaking too loud,” Taliaferro said in response.

Councilor David Brown wanted more information on two of the alignments that did not come through the City – the Proffit Road or Polo Grounds Road route. “I’d like to have some fleshing out of that information,” he said. Brown said he supported sending the letter to the consultant to point out that a Charlottesville-based route would not be acceptable to Council. Councilor Satyendra Huja agreed.

Councilor Holly Edwards said she would like to see a renewed effort to fighting the traffic problem by getting people out of their cars.

Mayor Dave Norris said he did not want to waste any more resources trying to plan a road that could not be built, especially in an environment with few transportation dollars available for construction of a new road.

“The next major transportation investment in our region should not be another huge swath of very expensive asphalt that we’re not going to have the money to build anyway, and there’s no political will to build anyway,” Norris said.

At the last meeting of the Eastern Connector Steering Committee in February, former City Councilor Kevin Lynch said he thought the City would come around to the idea of another bridge over the Rivanna River into Charlottesville, but only if the County committed to aligning the Eastern Connector through Pen Park (Alignment 3).  City Council did not discuss the merits or challenges of a Pen Park solution last night.  Pen Park is in the City of Charlottesville. 

The next Eastern Connector Steering Committee meeting is expected to meet again by the first week of April, though no date has yet been set.

Sean Tubbs

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