Friday, March 28, 2008

Does Earmark Indicate Congressional Mandate for Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road?

On March 3, 2008 my blog posting questioned if the earmark of $25 million for funding to "Construct Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange" constituted a mandate for building this interchange. Since that posting I reread a July 28, 2005 headline article in The Daily Progress that indicates Senator John H. Warner, R-Alexandria, was providing the funding for reasons that don't rise to the level of mandate for construction. I have included the text of this article below and I believe you will agree that this earmark is not suitable as being one of the purposes for building this proposed interchange as stated in the projects statement of "Purpose and Need" in the draft Environmental Assessment. As I read the Bob Gibson article below, I am reminded of the Alaska Bridge to Nowhere earmark discussion more than being convinced that our senator believes there is a compelling federal interest in this interchange being constructed. The interchange consultants continue to argue that transportation alternatives that avoid having significant impacts on historic properties and parkland are not acceptable in that they don't meet the project Purpose and Need, I find it essential that this earmark be removed from the itemized elements in the Purpose and Need statement.

Bob Gibson's article includes Sen. Warner saying "It doesn't have a damn thing to do with politics or anything like that. It's just an old [former University of Virginia law] student's expression of gratefulness to the community." It is hard to argue that this is a statement of the earmark being a way of meeting a clear transportation interest of the federal government or any sort of congressional mandate. I think this earmark is all about politics and not about transportation at all.

Here is the July 28, 2005 article for your consideration.

Warner secures parkway funds: Senator's fondness for city earned Meadowcreek monies

By Bob Gibson, Daily Progress staff writer
Published in The Daily Progress
Thursday July 28, 2005, page 1

Citing his affection for Charlottesville, U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Alexandria, said Wednesday that he has secured $25 million fo fully fund the final piece of the long-stalled Meadowcreek Parkway.

Warner said he decided to earmark the federal transportation dollars available to him as a senior senator to pay for a grade-separated interchange at the U.S. 250 Bypass, McIntire Road and the southern end of the parkway that has been planned for more than 30 years. The 2-mile parkway would extend from East Rio Road to Melbourne Road, wind through the east edge of McIntire Park and end at the U.S. 250 Bypass.

"It doesn't have a damn thing to do with politics or anything like that. It's just an old [former University of Virginia law] student's expression of gratefulness to the community," Warner said in a telephone interview.

"I started in 1949 in the law school," said Warner, who described leaving to fight in the Korean War and returning to Charlottesville in 1951. "Charlottesville opened its arms to us, the veterans coming back from the war. I have to look back now at 78 years old and say those were some of the happiest years of my life."

Warner said he decided to earmark the full $25 million for the interchange to complete the parkway's funding after longtime friend Forrest Marshall, a city pharmacist and former county supervisor, led a delegation to Washington to appeal for the funds.

A local's nudge

"Forrest had a lot to do with it," Warner said. He said he was impressed with the unanimity voiced by Charlottesville Mayor David Brown, county Supervisor Ken Boyd, 5th District Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., R-Rocky Mount, and others who met with him on April 7.

Brown said the 30-minute meeting with Warner was fruitful beyond anyone's hopes or dreams, although Warner was careful at the time not to promise any funding for the parkway project.

"What's the saying in politics? It's better to under-promise and over-deliver," Brown said. "The mood of the meeting was very positive. I felt growing cooperation was evident between the city and the county."

John J. "Butch" Davies III, a former Culpeper delegate who represents the Charlottesville-Culpeper region on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, said the full funding would not have been possible without Warner earmarking the $25 million after the federal highway funding bill had been largely agreed upon.

"That really is a victory for the community," Davies said. "The state was on board and the money was there for the Meadowcreek Parkway."

With funding secured for the $25 million interchange needed for the $31 million parkway, the project can be built within five to six years, Davies said.

"It will actually improve conditions on [the U.S. 250 Bypass] from what they are today" by eliminating a traffic light and having one highway built over the other, said Harrison B. Rue, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, who also attended the meeting in Warner's Senate office.

Rue said the city portion of the parkway across the eastern fringe of McIntire Park will cost about $11.6 million. He said the parkway's county portion from a Melbourne Road intersection just east of Charlottesville High School's football stadium north to East Rio Road will cost an estimated $19.4 million.

Rue and Davies said the parkway may include a roundabout at Melbourne Road with no traffic lights, although the Virginia Department of Transportation does not favor that design.

Boyd, the county supervisor at the meeting, said Warner "was very impressed that the city and county were coming and asking for something in agreement. That has not always been the case."

Opening Parkland

He said the parkway will increase the amount of parkland, not decrease it, and will "actually be a linear park with the ability to walk and bike downtown. There are bike paths and walking paths that are off the road."

Boyd said county officials were excited at the news from Warner "because we had thought we would not get all the money we asked for."

Marshall, the former supervisor who arranged the meeting with Warner, said the senator found the full amount "because he loves the community. He said you tell those guys he did it because he was in school here and fell in love with the area. This man has done an awful lot for this community."

Davies said the parkway and the extension of Hillsdale Drive as another parallel road on the east side of U.S. 29 will ease congestion on the portion of U.S. 29 just north of Charlottesville.

"Both of these roads will divert significant local traffic," Davies said. "They divert the local traffic to alternate routes at affordable dollars."

The interchange secured by Warner "helps enormously with the viability of this [U.S. 29] corridor and it makes the 250 Bypass work," Davies said. "The city is a big winner in this project."

Photo Source: Associated Press from online source.

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