I was interested to hear the discussion at the March 3, 2008 city council meeting about the current status of the Eastern Connector study and read Seth Rosen's article about that discussion "Is end near for Eastern Connector?" in today's daily progress. Rosen suggests that regional cooperation on exploring an Eastern Connector may be near an end. For many years, construction of an Eastern Connector for vehicular traffic between Albemarle County north of Charlottesville and the Pantops Mountain area east of Charlottesville was a condition for moving forward the proposed McIntire Road Extended through McIntire Park. It appeared to me that the recent expending of $250,000 each by Albemarle County and Charlottesville to explore alignments for an Eastern Connector was an effort to ensure that action on the connector was happening and that the McIntire Road Extended could be advanced in compliance with this longstanding condition. But, if the Eastern Connector is not going to happen (a project I thought might even be a preferrable alternative to building the costly and destructive McIntire Road Extended project and the even more costly Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road), is Charlottesville's city council willing to move forward with the McIntire Road Extended project and bring that anticipated traffic through an already congested part of our Charlottesville road network?
Charlottesville City Council approved "A Resolution Authorizing the Conveyanace of a Temporary Construction Easement in McIntire Park to the Commonwealth of Virginia upon the Completed Acquisition of Replacement Park Land" on October 1, 2007 that included as one of several conditions prior to actually granting this easement for road construction is that Albemarle County will "commit to continued development of alignment and funding scenarios for the Eastern Connector."
Without an Eastern Connector, it appears that the October 1 Council Resolution becomes moot, and Council must reconsider its position on building a road through McIntire Park - be it called the Meadow Creek Parkway as it is in the council resolution (a name that currently refers officially to a road connecting Melbourne Road and Rio Road that is totally in Albemarle County), or McIntire Road Extended as appears to be the current official name for this road project.
I and others have argued for many years that the interrelationship among the Eastern Connector, McIntire Road Extended, Meadow Creek Parkway, and the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road should recognized and the projects be combined into one project to study the broad range of transportation investment choices that are available to address the current and future transportation needs of both Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Treating these projects all as independent projects, many believe, is a way of avoiding protection of our parks (McIntire Park, Bailey Park, Pen Park), and cultural and historic resources that would be required under the National Environmental Protection Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act in a combined, federally funded project.
Only through a comprehensive evaluation of available transportation choices for meeting the transportation needs among Charlottesville, and the areas in Albemarle County north and east of Charlottesville can we truly identify solutions that meet our long-term transportation needs while being sensitive to the natural, cultural, and historic resources that are such a big part of our local quality of life. I hope Charlottesville city council and the Albemarle County board of supervisors will explore combining these now separate projects into one combined project and work together rather than in opposition in this effort. Hope is a theme in local politics today, but to keep this hope alive I suggest you share your thoughts with councilors and supervisors.
NOTE: Photo from the Eastern Connector Corridor Study website.