City Council falls short of consenting to parkway opening
By Sean Tubbs
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Charlottesville City Council approved an ordinance Monday that asks the Virginia Department of Transportation to make several safety improvements before Albemarle County’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway is opened early next year.
However, councilors made clear the vote did not indicate they were pleased with the imminent opening of the road that will eventually connect the two communities while cutting through a city park.
“I am not for consenting because I think that our consent is not necessary and is not being asked for,” Councilor Kristin Szakos said. “[VDOT] will do it whether we consent or not.”
Construction of the county’s portion of the parkway was completed in mid-October. Earlier this month, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking VDOT to open the road to the public.
City staff held negotiations with VDOT and the county and determined a series of improvements to mitigate the effects of opening the parkway. They include longer turn lanes as well as a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour as the parkway approaches Melbourne Road.
Szakos said she could support a request that VDOT make those improvements.
“We might all agree that these are things that need to happen,” she said.
However, some of the members of the public did not agree.
Locust Grove resident Garnett Mellon said her children walk to Charlottesville High School. She said a proposed widening of the intersection at Melbourne Road and Park Street to allow for larger turn movements would reduce safety for pedestrians.
“There’s a sidewalk there and that’s where kids walk, and if you allow traffic to flow more quickly and easily around that intersection, it will make for higher capacity and faster traffic,” Mellon said.
However, Szakos said she felt the improvement would improve safety.
“The way it is now, in order for buses to make the turn…[they] either have to pull way out into traffic and block everything or bump over that sidewalk,” Szakos said.
Outgoing City Councilor Holly Edwards was the lone vote against the ordinance because she felt VDOT was ignoring conditions requested by the city when it voted to grant easements on land in the county.
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, an opponent of the parkway, voted for the ordinance.
“This is the first time during my tenure on City Council that a council majority took action to communicate its lack of consent to some portion of the road project moving forward,” Norris said.
“I’m glad VDOT has agreed to make some improvements, but I think it is going to be a net negative for the city,” he added.
VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter said the target date for opening the road is the first week of January if weather conditions remain favorable.
The city’s portion of the road is under construction and not expected to be complete until 2013. A lawsuit filed by the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park against the Federal Highway Administration is currently preventing the construction of the road’s interchange with the U.S. 250 bypass from moving forward.
Szakos said she wants the improvements to be re-examined once the parkway is fully open.
“We need to look at that point to see if those really are causing more cut-through traffic that we don’t want,” Szakos said.
Charlottesville has received a $423,000 grant from VDOT’s Highway Safety Improvement Program to increase pedestrian access at the intersection of Harris Street and McIntire Road. The grant also covers the construction of a sidewalk along Hillcrest Road.
“These improvements are being coordinated with the Route 250 Interchange project at McIntire Road,” said Jeanette Janiczek, the program manager for the city’s urban construction initiative.
No additional right-of-way is expected to be needed for the project.