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August 19, 2011

City council candidates debate Fontaine-Sunset Connector

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, August 19, 2011

Many residents of Charlottesville’s Fry’s Spring neighborhood hope their streets will be unclogged if a new road between Albemarle County’s southern growth area and the University of Virginia’s Fontaine Research Park is built.

“Once the Sunset-Fontaine Connector road becomes a reality and is finished, it would more appropriately direct traffic from the county to the university,” said Hardy Whitten, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association.

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One of the alignments developed as part of the Southern Urban Area B Study. Click for a larger image.

The Fontaine-Sunset Connector was first recommended in September 2004 as part of a study of future land uses around the city and county’s southwestern border.

Several alignments were proposed to connect Sunset Avenue Extended with Fontaine Avenue through property that is largely undeveloped. Much of the road would be built on a tract known as the Granger property, though a portion would be built along the eastern edge of the research park.

However, several questions remain about how the road would be paid for and the precise route it would take.

The current cost estimate for the road is $12.8 million, though that number could be much higher due to the need to cross a railroad with either a bridge or a tunnel.

The project was placed on the county’s priority list for secondary roads in 2007, though no money has yet been allocated to the project. However, Albemarle is projected to receive only around $330,000 in secondary road funding each year through 2017.

CANDIDATES’ THOUGHTS

All 12 declared City Council candidates were asked at the FSNA’s Aug. 10 forum what they would do to make the road a reality.

Independent Scott Bandy called for the road to be fast-tracked.

“[This] is a practicality that we must address and we cannot put off,” Bandy said.
Democrat Dede Smith said the community needed to have the road built.

“We have had such an incredible pressure of the high-density development south of Fry’s Spring that this is such an essential road,” Smith said. “We need to hold the county accountable and responsible for building the infrastructure for their own development instead of using the city for the roadways to move their residents around.”

Incumbent Satyendra Huja, a Democrat, pointed out that the road would be entirely in the county, so it would take cooperation with Albemarle officials to make sure it remains one of their priorities.

“I’d also encourage the University of Virginia to contribute to this project because they will benefit also,” Huja said.

Democrat Colette Blount said UVa should be held accountable for building its portion of the road.

Democrat Brevy Cannon suggested the city withhold its support for a $4.7 million project to improve the U.S. 29/250 interchange until the county commits to build the Fontaine-Sunset Connector.

“I think that one of the things City Council has been lacking is a real spine when there are negotiations between the city and the county,” Cannon said.

Democrat Paul Beyer urged cooperation with the county and UVa rather than hardball tactics.

“We’re all partners together,’ Beyer said. “I’m a business person and I know I don’t go into any negotiating table self-righteously or wagging my finger at people saying ‘you should do this.’”

Democrat Kathy Galvin said the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission should put a special emphasis on the road and its surrounding environment as it helps coordinate the update of Albemarle and Charlottesville’s comprehensive plans.

“Once we know that, that road is going to make some sense,” Galvin said. “It could very well be a wonderful new neighborhood.

Independent Brandon Collins said he supported the road but was cautious that it might lead to more development.

“We do need to be mindful of what we’re going to do with that land around the road,” Collins said. “Do we want another new neighborhood? Do we want commercial development? And I think we should try to avoid that at all costs.”

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Independent Bob Fenwick said, if elected, he would get Dels. Rob Bell and David Toscano involved.

“We don’t have to fight this fight by ourselves,” Fenwick said. “We don’t have to knuckle under when Richmond or VDOT gives an excuse that we can’t do this for money and we can’t do that for some other reason.”

Democrat James Halfaday said he supported the road’s construction, but also suggested efforts be made to remove more people from their vehicles

“We also need to look at ways to have incentive programs for carpooling here in this area so we don’t have to have more roads like the Sunset-Fontaine Connector,” Halfaday said.

Independent Paul Long said he would not support the construction of any new roads.

“Any money that we consider spending go to new roads and highways should be dovetailed to public transportation,” Long said.

Independent Andrew Williams said he needed to study the issue more before making a decision.

COUNTY SUPPORT AND NEXT STEPS

Albemarle Supervisor Rodney Thomas, who also chairs the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s policy board, said he supports the road. He said he did not know how it would be funded, but it would likely take a combination of public and private money.

“If it's ever going to happen, we need to start talking about it now and get something on paper,” Thomas said.

A recent rezoning to expand the Fontaine Research Park set aside land for the connector on UVa property.

“Right-of-way for the connector was reserved at the eastern edge of the research park property from Fontaine Ave to the railroad,” said Elaine Echols, a senior planner for the county. “The alignment from the railroad to Sunset Avenue has not yet been established as specifically as it has along the research park property.”

Echols said the county is currently reviewing preliminary plans for the development of the Granger tract which would help establish an alignment.

Last summer, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission announced they would conduct a new study of the road to determine who would use it, but the project was delayed until the organization completes a travel demand analysis.

“We realized that if we did it in the fall of 2010 it would quickly become outdated due to the release of new Census data,” said Stephen Williams, the executive director of the TJPDC.

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