Council reaffirms support for Sunset-Fontaine and Eastern connectors
By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville’s City Council has reaffirmed its interest in two stalled road projects.
At a work session Thursday, the council directed staff to continue listing the Sunset-Fontaine Connector and the Eastern Connector as local priorities for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Even with limited funding for road construction, VDOT asks all localities in the state to prioritize potential construction projects. These are coordinated with the agency’s six-year improvement program.
Staff had argued that removing the two roads from the priority list might be more realistic given that the Eastern Connector is on hold and there is disagreement over whether a road to connect Sunset Avenue with Fontaine Avenue should even be built.
Both the city and Albemarle County opted to put further study of an eastern connection between U.S. 29 and U.S 250 east on hold in the fall of 2008. In the summer of that year, a task force selected a route through Pen Park as its choice for an alignment, but elected officials opted to wait until more is known about future traffic patterns before committing funds toward preliminary design.
The Sunset-Fontaine Connector was called for in a 2004 joint study between the city, the county and the University of Virginia. However, cost estimates of the road are high because of a need to cross steep terrain and a railroad line.
Albemarle officials had been hoping UVa would contribute to the cost to complete the road as part of a rezoning for Fontaine Research Park. In May 2009, UVa executive vice president and chief operating officer, Leonard W. Sandridge, told county officials that UVa would not pay for any portion of the road off UVa Foundation property.
This summer, the UVa Foundation reduced the size of its planned expansion of Fontaine Research Park in order to eliminate the need for a second entrance. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will consider the rezoning on Sept. 8, following a recommendation for approval from the Planning Commission last month.
Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, said it might be against the city’s best interest for UVa to build a smaller research park.
“We tend to think that maybe the density in the research park and the jobs that close to the city where you can serve them with transit is a good thing,” Tolbert said.
Mayor Dave Norris said he would like to keep Sunset-Fontaine as a priority because UVa is at least planning to build a section of the road through the new park.
“I worry if we take it off of our list, UVa will feel less of an obligation to factor in that portion of the connector as they’re fleshing out their plans,” Norris said.
Norris was not as convinced that an Eastern Connector would ever happen and said he agreed with staff’s recommendation to remove it. One of his colleagues disagreed.
“I’ve not given up on it yet,” said Councilor Holly Edwards. “We have to do something about that whole area.”
No votes were taken Thursday but council members reached consensus to have the projects stay on the table for future discussion.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said the city needs to consider improvements to Free Bridge to help improve traffic flow on U.S. 250.
“If [the Eastern Connector] is not happening, then we need to figure out something else,” Szakos said.
Other current road priorities on the city’s list include the replacement of a railroad bridge on Jefferson Park Avenue Extended, the Belmont Bridge replacement, Hillsdale Drive and the city’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway.
The council requested that city, county and UVa planning staff discuss the future of both of the connector roads. That meeting is expected to occur in October.
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