Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sunday article in the Daily Progress by Seth Rosen - Interchange design plans tied in knots (April 27, 2008) again demonstrates the disconnect among the goals of our community and how the components of the trio of transportation projects (Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road, McIntire Road Extended, and Meadow Creek Parkway) are being developed and brought before our decision making bodies. City council declined to approve either of the two interchange designs developed by the council appointed interchange steering committee. The steering committee appeared to be more of an interchange lobbying committee at the most recent council meeting where several committee members were pushing the council to make a choice among two not very appealing alternative designs after they themselves were pushed by the interchange design consultants at the most recent steering committee meeting to make a choice. I applaud our council members for resisting the push.

Council members will schedule a work session and expressed an interest in developing some new ideas that will lead to new candidate solutions - be they alternative interchange designs or choices using modes of travel other than automobiles whizzing around massive roundabouts and ramps in McIntire Park. Where will these ideas come from? VDOT? Neighborhood Development Services? The design consultants? I don't think so. I believe that the only way to develop new ideas is to reframe the transportation problem being addressed. My recommendation is that the three 'independent' projects that are clearly interdependent in their design and construction be combined into one project. This project should address the broad range of alternatives for meeting the growing transportation demands among areas north and east of Charlottesville. Maintaining the three projects as independent studies - linked by an ever expanding set of conditions, design linkages, precedents, and other directives that overdetermine the set of choices and eliminate even the possibility of identifying new creative and more environment and neighborhood friendly solutions. One alternative suggested by several members of the public at the city council meeting included expanded transit development along with improvement of the Route 250 Bypass/McIntire Road intersection (without building a road through McIntire Park) to meet future transportation, park access, and pedestrian, bicycle and automobile safety concerns. Under the current three-project scheme, this alternative can not even be considered!

The interchange consultants, staff, and steering committee failed to identify any interchange design alternatives that meet the pedestrian and bicycle access and safety concerns often claimed to be the prime objectives in this planning effort. The consideration of of impacts on historic properties and most recently on city owned land in Albemarle County that are athletic and recreational recources at Charlottesville High School were hardly even considered in any timely way so as to influence the design process. Effects of the interchange on historic resources is still to be determined, yet these concerns have be relegated to mitigation issues rather than preliminary design issues. Student safety at the Melbourne Road, Meadow Creek Parkway, McIntire Road intersection was a topic of significant discussion at the most recent Charlottesville School Board meeting and no clear resolution of this concern was achieved at that meeting even with a host of VDOT, Charlottesville, and Albemarle planning staff on hand to address school board concerns. Coordination of these independently designed - but not really independent projects where three different design teams are operate under three different project development administrators is simply not working and may not even be workable. It is difficult enough to develop one project without having to coordinate three overlapping projects under development simultaneously.

Perhaps the parkway project promoters believed that a 'divide and conquer' strategy would bring the over forty years of debate to an end. But, I think it has done just the opposite. I urge our city councilors and our school board members to demand that a unified project encompassing the current three projects be started with the goal of meeting our future transportation needs. It is time we stop limiting our planning to putting roads through our parkland and historic resources - simply because we haven't been willing to rethink decisions promoted to solve the transportation problems of the 1960s.

Photo: from - traffic on Route 250 Bypass, Charlottesville VA

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