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September 11, 2011

VDOT moving forward with Meadow Creek Parkway construction

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, September 11, 2011


An engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation said last week that using an alternative method to ford a stream in McIntire Park will not significantly raise the cost of the city’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway.

Mcintire-bridge
Photosimulation of the 65-foot long bridge to be built in McIntire Park

“Our early estimates are that we’ll stay within the contingencies that are available in the contract,” said VDOT engineer Brent Sprinkel. “There should be sufficient money in the current budget to more than handle what we’re doing.”

The Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded a $3.37 million contract to Key Construction Company in April, more than a year after VDOT selected the firm as the lowest bidder for the project.

The contract could not be officially awarded until after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing VDOT to reroute an unnamed tributary of Schenk’s Branch through a box culvert.

Soon after, the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park sought a preliminary injunction against VDOT to halt construction. The coalition claimed the permit was issued unlawfully because the environmental review was not broad enough to satisfy requirements.

However, VDOT asked for the permit to be withdrawn in mid-July, one day before the case was to be heard in federal court, because the agency’s engineers chose to use a 65-foot-long bridge to cross the stream instead of the culvert.

“We were going to be victorious in the lawsuit and there would be an injunction against any construction because of the invalidity of the permit,” said Peter Kleeman, a coalition member.

At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Dave Norris asked if the bridge would be a more expensive option.

“Generally speaking, bridges will cost more than a culvert but we have not finalized that yet,” Sprinkel said. “We have not gone to the contractor to negotiate prices.”

The City Council learned in a recent briefing that the bridge will include bike lanes on either side, as well as a sidewalk for pedestrians.

“The [multi-use] trail will also come up and cross on the bridge in a separated area on the bridge,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.

The bridge design will be similar to one that has already been constructed on Albemarle County’s portion of the parkway.

“I was a little startled at the way this project came to us but I think the bridge itself is something that’s very attractive,” said City Councilor Kristin Szakos.

Even without knowing the bridge’s final cost, Key Construction has begun clearing the land for the project, according to Sprinkel.

Construction on Albemarle’s portion of the parkway will be officially completed in mid-October. The multi-use trail next to that section of roadway could open soon afterwards.

“VDOT is working with the city and county to convey the trail property to the city of Charlottesville,” said VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter. “Once that is complete the trail can be officially opened.”

Later this year, the City Council will be presented with a final design for the grade-separated interchange that will connect the parkway with the U.S. 250 Bypass. The $33.5 million project is being funded in part by a federal earmark secured by former Sen. John Warner.

“We have several stakeholder groups that we’ve committed to meet with prior to council’s final presentation,” said Angela Tucker, the city’s project manager for the interchange. These groups include the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, the Covenant School and the Hillcrest and Birdwood neighborhoods.

The Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park filed a federal lawsuit in February alleging the Federal Highway Administration unlawfully issued a “finding of no significant impact” for the interchange.

"Our primary goal is to address the federal protections for parkland, historic properties and the environmental impact issues that are triggered by the use of federal funding for the interchange,” Kleeman said.

No date has been set for that case to be heard by federal Judge Norman K. Moon, but it is not likely that a ruling will be made until early next year.

The city, county and VDOT have an informal understanding that prevents any portion of the road from opening to vehicular traffic before all three portions are completed.

 

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