The Steering Committee overseeing a corridor location study for the proposed Eastern Connector has agreed to recommend three routes for the proposed road. The Committee will meet again in late May to review the presentation that the consultant will give to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council later this year.

Both jurisdictions contributed $250,000 to hire the firm PBS&J to oversee the study, which was charged with identifying a minimum of three corridors for the proposed road which steering committee members acknowledged would not be constructed for decades.

The routes to be recommended are:

At its previous meeting in March

, the Committee had asked PBS&J to calculate how much additional traffic capacity would be provided if these roads were built as four-lane roads, as opposed to the original expectation of a 2-lane connector road. Steering Committee members received a packet filled with tables predicting traffic volumes for 2025 under dozens of possible permutations, up to a completely theoretical 8 lane Pen Park route. According to these tables, a 2-lane Pen Park Route would carry over 16,000 vehicles a day, whereas 4 lanes would carry 22,000.

“There’s a certain demand to move back and forth across the [Rivanna] river,” said Lewis Grimm with PBS&J. Currently the Route 250 bypass is the only way for vehicles in the urban ring to cross the river. The MPO’s UNJAM 2025 traffic forecast projects a traffic volume of 65,500 vehicles a day over Free Bridge. Grimm said the construction of a four-lane Pen Park route, which would include a new bridge over the Rivanna, would reduce that figure to 54,800. But would that be enough to justify building the road?

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch said that would still technically represent a failing level of service according to VDOT’s methodology. Mark Graham, Director of Community Development for Albemarle County, said the public would not support the construction of a road if the traffic forecast still shows a failure.

“None of these scenarios is going to improve the existing condition,” Graham said. “We’re only talking about how much worse it’s going to get… if we come out and the message comes across that none of these is going to improve the existing situation, we’re D.O.A.”

Lynch said there had to be a way to explain that to the public. Grimm suggested it would be possible to present the data in such a way that would describe when traffic congestion would be worse, possibly by depicting the growth of peak periods over time. As an example, Albemarle County Planning Commission

Chairman Cal Morris (Rivanna) said Pantops is now experiencing a third rush hour at mid-day, as people who work there drive around in search of a bite to eat. Grimm said he has seen the phenomenon in other areas, where new suburban multi-use centers are built without a place to serve lunch.

County Transportation Planner Juandiego Wade asked the Committee how they felt they should proceed. Should they move on to a public information hearing such as the one held in November of last year, or present to the Board and Council? After some discussion, they opted to go to the elected officials first for a presentation.

Lynch said he felt it necessary to explain to the public why the committee sought the data for a four-lane road.

“We wanted to justify to ourselves that the demand is really there… and we can look at this and say yes, there is a lot more demand and if we build larger roads, they would get used. Whether or not those roads are politically feasible to build, that’s a whole other question,” Lynch said. He warned it would be difficult to translate a spreadsheet with data to the public, and that it would be hard to construct the political will to build a new road.

Albemarle County Supervisor

Ken Boyd

(Rivanna) asked his fellow Steering Committee members if they felt they had been charged with determining the political feasibility of the roads. Lynch said no, but he said the committee should recommend options that can actually get built.

“I don’t want to put a solution on the table that we know is a non-starter,” Lynch said. He suggested the Committee consider City Council’s recommendation to evaluate a transit-only option for the Eastern Connector.

Grimm said transit could be a viable option, but that the community would have to display the political will to support an expensive transit-only option, as well as a willingness to actually use it. Lynch said he felt Charlottesville would be more inclined to support a transit-only link than a four-lane road. Boyd said he would be more interested in a satellite system of buses on Pantops to help get people around during the day. City Resident John Pfaltz said transit was a separate but related issue, and Boyd said the Regional Transit Authority study currently under way would cover much of that ground.

Pfaltz also said he would recommend the Polo Grounds and Proffit Road Relocated alternatives be studied, even though the traffic forecast data shows that neither would be as effective as the Pen Park route.

“I’d love to see this committee lay it out and say these roads will be built sometime in the future so that the land is not preempted by easements, and so that people know that those roads are going to go in at some time, and it doesn’t come as a big surprise,” Pfaltz. Wade said elements of those two roads are already in the county’s Six Year Plan, though they are not currently strategic priorities.

Lynch said he thought that was a good idea.

“Call it a transportation corridor or something and say we can’t justify it in 2025, but we know looking at the County build-out patterns it’s going to be there at some point, “ Lynch said.

Grimm reminded the Committee that the MPO is currently updating its long range plan, and that those solutions chould be considered as part of that process. The UNJAM 2035 process begins on May 10 with a half-day regional summit.

Boyd said his fellow Supervisors would be cautious about reserving corridors.

“If we start planning transportation corridors, development is going to follow along these corridors,” Boyd said, adding that the County’s policy is not to build roads in rural areas.

Cal Morris said he wanted the steering committee to send the message that the eventual Eastern Connector is “a first step in a multi-step operation” to increase the area’s transportation capacity.

The Steering Committee will next meet on May 30, 2008, with appearances before the City Council and the Board of Supervisors to follow in the summer. Boyd said the Board would likely not hold a public hearing on the Eastern Connector until it takes up its Six Year Secondary Road Plan next winter.

Sean Tubbs

Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.