The "diamond" design 250 Bypass Interchange at the intersection of Route 250 and McIntire Road.
Officials say the Interchange will improve traffic flow and create a pedestrian and bicycle "gateway" to McIntire Park.
City of Charlottesville
After more than four decades of planning, the head of the $50 million traffic improvement monster we've long known as the Meadow Creek Parkway, the Route 250 Bypass interchange, is finally being built after the city granted permission for construction to begin on March 4.
"I like to think that it will improve safety and add multimodal access where there currently is
none," says City of Charlottesville Development Manager Angela Tucker, describing the complexity of the project that will include an overpass and increased pedestrian, bike and vehicle accessibility to McIntire Park and the Hillcrest/Birdwood neighborhood.
Indeed, as Tucker points out, the number of critical accidents at the intersection are three times the state average, and with the entrance to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad center right there, there's "a lot happening at the intersection." As part of the Interchange project, the rescue squad entrance will be moved between the Bypass and Harris Street.
First proposed by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 1967, the two-mile Parkway will snake its way from Rio Road to the intersection of Route 250 and McIntire Road, speeding traffic downtown and providing an alternate route for drivers hoping to avoid Route 29 North. The County's portion, from Rio to Melbourne Road, is already complete, while the City's portion, from Melbourne to the Interchange at 250, is expected to be finished in 2015, according to Tucker.
The Interchange will allow traffic on 250 to flow uninterrupted past the intersection of 250 and McIntire Road, courtesy of an overpass, while a lighted intersection beneath the overpass will connect McIntire with the Parkway, and provide on and off-ramp access to 250.
Studies on the Parkway and the Interchange began in 1979, and since then it's been the subject of vehement opposition including lawsuits filed to block its construction. It was eventually pushed along by $33 million in federal funds that former Senator John Warner (R-VA) had earmarked for the project in 2005. His efforts convinced the county to rename their portion of the road in his honor.
Although construction on the interchange isn't yet visible from McIntire Road, the signs that it's happening are there: the Charlottesville Skate Park as been temporarily relocated to a small spot at the entrance of the McIntire Golf Course, where it will eventually expand to cover the two acres that now are home to the McIntire wading pool and adjacent playground.
In addition to improved pedestrian and bicycle access to the park and nearby neighborhoods, what's officially being referred to as a "Gateway Project" will also feature a mile-and-half of new trails, extension of the Schenk's Greenway trail to the park, improved access to the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad center [Hallelujah!], preservation of the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, and hundreds of new trees, shrubs, and improved landscaping.
Also, a paved, 10-foot wide bike and pedestrian trail that runs parallel to the Parkway is scheduled to be completed this spring, making a commute from neighborhoods along Rio to downtown not just possible but pleasant. There's also an approved plan to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the he Norfolk-Southern railroad in McIntire Park.
During the construction phase, McIntire Road lanes may be shifted, according to Tucker, as will access to 250, but officials say that all traffic routes along McIntire Road and 250 will remain open.
It may sound good on paper, but opponents of the Parkway and the Interchange maintain it's a waste of money, and will actually make our traffic situation worse.
"Whenever you build a new highway you induce more people to drive more times more places and you very quickly use up all the new capacity while creating new congestion somewhere else and, hence, more demand for more road capacity," says Randy Salzman, a Charlottesville-based transportation researcher.
As Salzman points out, numerous studies have shown that for every 10 percent of capacity a new roadway creates, there's an almost immediate four percent increase in traffic. Within five years that traffic increase typically reaches 10 percent, Salzman says, creating the traffic congestion the road project was designed to relieve.
What's more, Salzman expects any traffic easing at 250 and McIntire Road to create additional congestion a mile or so down the road at the Free Bridge intersection,where there is a bottleneck problem that can already back traffic up all the way up Pantops Mountain and beyond.
"This is what the history shows happening again and again," says Salzman. "That bottleneck becomes the next grand project as it's seemingly worse than the old bottleneck. This is the bottom line: the more you spend trying to build your way out of congestion the worse you make congestion."
However, as Tucker points out, while traffic is likely to grow, the Interchange is not a "capacity" project designed to reduce traffic flow, but more of a safety project designed to make the intersection less dangerous.
Of course, now that the monster has come to life, all we can do is wait and see.
Note: A community information/question and answer session will be held on March 14 from 5-7:00pm at Charlottesville High School, designed to brief people about the construction activities and the timeline of the project.