Wednesday, August 26, 2009

VDOT needs to pick one alternative for McIntire Road Extended - not two.

This graphic of McIntire Park showing an interchange at Route 250 Bypass providing access to a road through the park was included in the 1975 Charlottesville Open Space Plan prepared by the City of Charlottesville. This is the first graphic I am aware of that indicated that an interchange alternative was considered that would allow traffic of any kind into the eastern part of McIntire Park. The road into the park provided access to a proposed recreation area, shelters and parking where the golf course was and remains today. The road was labeled as the McIntire Parkway on this plan. In fact, this plan was the basis for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) claiming that the parkway as designed in the 1995 Environmental Assessment was not subject to federal parkland protection requirement (Section 4(f) protections included in the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Act of 1966) because the parkway and the park were being jointly developed. Later FHWA clarified that a joint development exemption only applied when the park and road were being created at the same time so this exemption doesn't apply to McIntire Park and the Meadowcreek Parkway.

What I find interesting is that since 1975 plans for a parkway through McIntire Park have considered at-grade intersection and interchange designs among the project alternatives for the southern terminus of the road through the park. Only in 2005 when funding for an interchange at Route 250 Bypass was provided in the federal SAFETEA-LU legislation as a $27 million earmark did this alternative have any chance of being selected as a preferred alternative. But, rather than select the interchange alternative in the existing planning effort, the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road became what was considered by FHWA to be a new project totally independent of the parkway itself. Now that city council has selected a diamond shaped interchange as its preferred alternative and VDOT has submitted a permit application for the parkway (McIntire Road Extended) with an at-grade intersection at Route 250 Bypass, VDOT has apparently selected both an interchange AND an at-grade intersection for the parkway. I know of no other time where VDOT has selected two alternatives for construction of the same project.

Clearly there is something going on here - and that appears to be avoiding federal funding to be allocated to the entire project and thus requiring that Section 4(f) and other federal environmental regulations applying to the project development of the entire roadway connecting Route 250 Bypass to Melbourne Road. As I see it, the answer to the question - does the parkway have an at-grade intersection or an interchange - differs depending on the situation. When seeking a water quality permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the answer is "at-grade intersection." When consultants present their designs to City Council the answer is "interchange." I suppose if one did a survey of citizens, planners, government officials, consultants, city councilors and others the answer would not be the same, and likely the answer would be more complex than just "at-grade" or "interchange."

Avoiding federal environmental review of the parkway plans has lead to a comedy of errors and changes in the project that continues today. I am looking for some leader - perhaps a city councilor - to demand that a logical description of the transportation purpose and need in the city be stated. Then, a parkway (whether it has an at-grade or interchange terminus) could be considered as one of several alternatives to consider in meeting the transportation need. Without this the comedy that is the parkway planning process will continue and money better spent on other needs will be wasted. When will a true leader take on this challenge?

No comments: