David Benish shows the Pantops Master Plan to attendees of the meeting


11/8/07 Update:

Since this article was posted, the consultant consolidated the number of choices into four.

Further information is available in this document (.PDF).

When the panel of officials in charge of selecting a

corridor for the Eastern Connector


last met in August

, they did not see an option that included routing the road through Pen Park. But, when the steering committee met on October 5, 2007, that alternative was put back on the table as one of five choices the public will see at a public forum later this year.

In all, the committee waded through 13 alternatives at the meeting. The committee also spent time reestablishing the need for an Eastern Connector. Albemarle County’s Chief Planner, David Benish, described how the Pantops Master Plan provides for an Eastern Connector. Additionally, a public information meeting on the project has been pushed back to late November/early December to give the engineering team more time to refine the selected alternatives.


ORIGINS IN THE PANTOPS MASTER PLAN

Benish said the Board of Supervisors is currently reviewing the Pantops Master Plan, after

receiving a recommendation for approval by the Planning Commission

. “It is working its ways towards ultimate approval, we hope before the end of the year,” he said. The transportation plan has two locations where there could be an Eastern Connector, according to Benish.





The transportation map of the Pantops Master Plan uses two blue arrows to indicate where future road connections may be made

“What we essentially identified is the use of the Route 250 Corridor and or a parallel road system to the north, and utilization of the Route 20 corridor,” he said. But, the Pantops Master Plan does show a potential road corridor passing to the north of Darden Towe Park.

Another recommendation in the plan shows a potential bridge to the City at High Street from the Pantops Shopping Center. There’s also an extension of Olympia Road to connect with Route 20. Benish said that last project would complete a parallel road network behind Route 250 through the Pantops area. “That parallel road system may be creating a system that would function like an Eastern Connector,” he suggested.

The Pantops Master Plan sets a maximum widening of Route 250 to six lanes on the County side, in part to retain some semblance of safety for pedestrians. The map shows a future upgrade on Route 20 to four lanes between 250 and the entrance to Darden-Towe Park. “Past that intersection the plan recommends that the Route 20 corridor retain a rural character and not be upgraded,” Benish said.


PROVING THE NEED FOR THE EASTERN CONNECTOR

Albemarle County Supervisor

Ken Boyd (Rivanna)

told the committee that many of his constituents are concerned about the road.

“The single most frequent question I get is why are you doing this, and what will it do for us?” Boyd said it is important for the committee to describe the “hardcore reasons” why County staff feel the Eastern Connector is necessary.





Source: PBS&J

Lewis Grimm of the engineering firm

PBS&J

said the Eastern Connector is a road identified by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in its

United Jefferson Area Mobility Plan

(UnJam 2025). He pointed to data that shows traffic on Free Bridge on Route 250 increased from 30 thousand trips per day to 52 thousand trips per day in 2006. Grimm said traffic volumes are expected to grow 38.9 percent between 2000 and 2030, based on data from the U.S. Census and Albemarle County, as well as several studies conducted by the County and the MPO.

Supervisor Boyd questioned whether those numbers were accurate. City resident John Pfaltz sits on the steering committee in his capacity as a member of the MPO’s CHART committee, which is currently conducting a new long-range traffic study.

“250 East Pantops stands out as it was predicted to be with an increase of 200 percent,” Pfaltz said. “It has already gone up 100 percent in one third of the time.”

City Councilor

Kevin Lynch

said that the City’s purpose and need is to relieve congestion on Route 250, and pointed to multiple traffic studies that show gridlock in the coming years if nothing is done.

“If we don’t have another crossing,” Lynch said “The 250 Bypass, which is our most efficiently working piece of infrastructure right now shuts down, and we can’t let that happen.”

But Ken Boyd said that it was important to select the most efficient project. “If we build an Eastern Connector and it takes just three percent of the traffic off of [Route 250] that and you still have the gridlock, we haven’t done anything and spent a lot of money for nothing.” He said he wanted to select an alignment that maximizes traffic reduction.

John Pfaltz said the time for proving the need for the Eastern Connector was over. “There’s a huge amount of traffic coming from the northern part of the county heading east, or vice versa,” he said. But Boyd, a resident of Key West, called the Proffit-Road to Route 20 corridor a “de-facto” Eastern Connector, and said current traffic numbers did not indicate a large need. But Pfaltz reminded Boyd that Proffit has a one-lane bridge and several dangerous curves. Boyd agreed, but suggested cheaper alternatives may be all the region can afford.

Councilor Lynch suggested that only a project in the $40 to $50 million range would be funded. He also pointed out that City approval of the Meadowcreek Parkway is predicated on the eventual construction of the Eastern Connector and a regional network of roads in the County.

Boyd said his questioning of the traffic numbers was to ensure the best road would be built, and not to delay or stop the project.

“There’s no intent that I’m aware of on our Board to not be fully committed to building an Eastern Connector road,” he said.


COMMITTEE DISCUSSES THE ALTERNATIVES

Lewis Grimm said that the alternatives would be governed by a set of conditions.

“We’re assuming we’re looking at two-lane roadways, we’re looking at one travel lane in each direction,” he said. “All these would incorporate pedestrian and bicycle facilities. For our forecasting purposing, assuming a collector type street. A design speed of 40 to 50 miles an hour, the higher speed in the more rural areas, the lower speed in a more urban area. And this would be a posted speed probably in the 30 to 45 mile hour range.”

The following alternatives were determined by the Committee to be shown to the public during the public hearing later this fall.


Alternative 1: Proffit Road Relocated





Alternative 1 (Source: PBS&J)




Alternative 1 (Source: PBS&J)
Grimm said the County already lists improvements on Proffit Road on its list of priority projects, and that a further project to smooth out some of the curves is documented in Alternative 1.

According to PBS&J’s data, this option would not do as much to relieve traffic. Councilor Lynch said he disagreed with Grimm’s assessment, because many people will not drive existing Proffit Road because of its curves and the one-lane railroad bridge.





Alternative 1 (Source: PBS&J)


Alternative 2: Polo Grounds Road improvements





Alternative 2 (Source: PBS&J)




Alternative 2 (Source: PBS&J)
Grimm said this would include either a new grade-separated crossing over the railroad, or improvements to go underneath the railroad with a new underpass. The road would also be extended to the east with a new passage to Route 20, complete with an additional bridge over the Rivanna.




Alternative 2 (Source: PBS&J)


Alternative 3: Route 250 Improvements

The suggested improvements would be centered around making Free Bridge more efficient. “The idea here is right now we have two major at-grade intersections. One at 20 and 250 on the east side, the other at 250 on the West Side, and it gets very complicated and difficult for people to weave their way across and get in the right lanes to make those turns.” Grimm said there are ways to separate through- traffic from local traffic, perhaps by having an elevated bridge structure.”


Alternative 6: Additional Rivanna Crossing

Mark Graham, Albemarle County’s Director of Community Development, suggested eliminating an extension of Market Street to cross the Rivanna River. Likewise, Kevin Lynch suggested eliminating consideration of a bridge north of Free Bridge. Alternative 6 is now depicted as only having a crossing of the Rivanna at Meade Avenue.

“That is feasible,” Lynch said. “I don’t think we’re going to do it before we get another connection to the north but I think that’s one that the City would look at once the County has demonstrated its capability of building some infrastructure of its own.” He added that while he thinks it may be a useful road,

he would not consider this bridge to be an Eastern Connector.

Mark Graham suggesting a new alternative, grade separating 20 and 250 using a jug-handle style interchange. “I think there needs to be some 250 improvements that we add into this mix somewhere,” he said. PBS&J staff will refine this into a new Alternative 6. (not pictured)


Alternative 13: Pen Park Route




Alternative 13 (Source: PBS&J)

After the August meeting, the Pen Park route was suggested by County staff, and there appeared to be a lot of support for it at the recent meeting. In August, Grimm had said he felt getting federal approval for a Pen Park route would be impossible. Any project that passes through a park is subject to Section 4(f) requirements of the Federal Highway Administration, requiring proof that no other viable, prudent alternative available. In October, Grimm repeated his thought that there are “significant implications” of attempting this route.

This option would split off two lanes of Rio Road through the middle of Pen Park, and then across the Rivanna River to Route 20, connecting with Dorrier Drive on the eastern side of the Rivanna. Councilor Lynch suggested tweaking the design slightly to route the line through Pen Park Avenue, along an existing utility road, to reduce the amount of parkland that would be taken.

John Pfaltz said Rio Road is a perfect road on which to base an Eastern Connector. “It seems sensible after it crosses the railroad to split it into two. Two lanes coming into the City on Meadowcreek Parkway, and two lanes heading over to Pantops,” he said. “It’s using the existing network in about as fine a fashion as you can imagine.”

Lynch said the only way to get a road approved through Pen Park is if a de minimis ruling is applied for. That’s the tactic being applied to the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange, which currently has a draft Section 4(f) application before the FHWA. “And the only way you get a de minimis ruling is minimize the impact,” he said.

Mark Graham said it would be very important to show that there’s no reasonable alternative, something that may be hard to do given that other corridors do not go through park land. But Lynch said many of those alternatives are not viable or prudent, given their high cost. Graham said he would support moving Alternative 13 forward, but only if a notation was placed on it to indicate that the Steering Committee is aware of the 4(f) issues.

Grimm said he was comfortable taking Alternative 13 forward, but told the committee he anticipated opposition from the general public. The Steering Committee took that into consideration, and stressed

that the alternative has many obstacles to overcome.

Councilor Lynch also said that the road would allow the Charlottesville Transit Service to run a full circular route, rather then the current L-shape configuration.

REJECTED ALIGNMENTS AND NEXT STEPS

The Committee agreed to drop from consideration options that would route the Eastern through a corridor that carries a Dominion Virginia Power line through the City. They also agreed to drop several suggested combinations of the various improvements, a north-south parallel road to the east of Route 20, and a route that would have followed the northern border of Pen Park.

Ken Boyd asked when cost estimates would be available, adding that a decision would be based on how much funding is available. Grimm said that ballpark figures might be available as soon as the public has its say on what alternatives to support.

Kevin Lynch asked if the consultants would still be open to accepting new alternatives from the public.

Grimm said that would be possible at this stage. The public input meeting was originally scheduled for mid November, but has been pushed back to allow PBS&J to refine the alternatives for public view.

Sean Tubbs

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