Council will not oppose opening of parkway
By Sean Tubbs
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Charlottesville’s City Council determined Monday that it would not oppose the opening of the first segment of the Meadow Creek Parkway.
Albemarle County’s portion of the parkway was officially completed in October. Residents in neighborhoods along Rio Road have been lobbying local leaders to open the road to alleviate traffic congestion.
City Councilor David Brown said he felt it was appropriate to open the parkway given that the city’s portion will not be completed for years.
“There’s a lot of people in the city who don’t think we need the road, but there’s plenty of city residents who say we should be opening it,” Brown said.
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution today asking the Virginia Department of Transportation to open the completed portion of the road to traffic. City staff briefed councilors on Monday on steps they feel should be taken first to improve safety. Those requests were not part of the project’s original design.
“We wanted to give you an opportunity, if [the parkway] is inevitable, to make sure we state our position of what needs to be done to make it safe and to have traffic flow,” said James Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
The council held the first of two readings of an ordinance granting its consent to the opening. The ordinance will be voted on at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 19.
The ordinance requests that VDOT extend various turn lanes at the parkway’s intersections with both Melbourne Road and at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center. The recommendations were made this summer by the firm Kimley-Horn following a traffic study.
“One of our responsibilities as a council is to watch out for the safety of our citizens,” said City Councilor Satyendra Huja. “I think these improvements will do that.”
The city will ask VDOT to pay for the additional safety measures, but Tolbert said there is no guarantee the agency will fund them.
The parkway’s intersection with Melbourne Road is located in the county on land owned by the city. In 2008, the Charlottesville School Board granted easements for the road, but placed five conditions on its approval.
“One was that no part of the parkway in the city, county, or the interchange, would be opened for public use until the entire project was complete,” Tolbert said.
Other conditions included landscaping to screen the parkway from Charlottesville High School, a 25 mph speed limit at the Melbourne intersection and that the city would have control over the traffic signal.
According to Tolbert, those conditions will be met by VDOT, but the condition regarding the timing of the road’s opening is not enforceable unless the city decides to sue.
“I don’t want to sue [the county], but it is a little dismaying,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos.
Tolbert told the council that the city’s portion of the road would likely not be completed until late 2013 and that the interchange won’t likely be built before 2014.
Construction of the interchange cannot begin until a lawsuit filed by the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park against the Federal Highway Administration is resolved.
Tolbert said the traffic study predicted an increase on Melbourne and Grove roads, but that most traffic will head toward Park Street.
Huja said he suspects Grove Road would see a traffic increase.
“I’d be willing to do some traffic calming there in the future,” Huja said.
Several members of the public pleaded with the city to not allow the parkway to open.
“VDOT and the county should not have started on that project until the city’s conditions were met for the road and until there was a full plan,” said Stratton Salidis, a longtime advocate of protecting McIntire Park’s eastern side from the road.
Others pointed out that the city has no ability to stop the parkway.
“The decision to open it does not lie with the City Council,” said Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“It lies with VDOT,” Hulbert added.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said in an email Tuesday that he wants to proceed with opening the road as soon as possible.
“VDOT has certified the road as safe and ready to open, so let’s open it today,” Boyd said.
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