Tunnel work to block U Ave. for over two months

One major Charlottesville road is about somewhat more winding and narrow. Starting today, Tuesday, June 10, the University of Virginia is performing an excavation on steam tunnels where McCormick Road intersects University Avenue. UVA appears to be closing down part of a main thoroughfare to deal with its own underground steam heating system.

This procedure is not an emergency effort, according to Jim Fitzgerald, Associate Director of Community Relations for UVA.

"The work is critical in that it is important, not in that it is dangerous," says Fitzgerald.

But it will affect the flow of traffic and public transportation. According to UVA's Community Relations website, the excavation is taking place in two phases. The first involves excavating University Avenue so that Eastbound traffic (traveling from Ivy Road to the Downtown Mall) will be diverted right onto McCormick and then immediately left back onto University (around the triangle). Meanwhile, westbound traffic must travel a more long and winding route– right on Rugby, left on Culbreth, and then right back on to University.

In phase two, workers will excavate across McCormick Road, closing the east side of the triangle. In order to turn right onto University Ave, drivers will need to bear left of the triangle, and then turn right.

"The tunnels are in bad need of repair," says Ric Barrick, Director of Communications for City of Charlottesville. Barrick contends that throughout the excavation, citizen safety should not be an issue. "Because of the way they're built, once they dig them up they are dangerous to be around," says Barrick, "so we're limiting access. There will be some walking detours particularly down the hill next to [Nameless] field."

According to Fitzgerald, each phase should take about four-five weeks. Fitzgerald says that the aim is that the excavation will be complete before U.Va's fall session begins on August 25th.

The steam-tunnel repairs will affect more than just car commuters. Public transportation will also have to follow detours– bigger detours. According to Tamika Harris, Customer Service Supervisor for the Downtown Transit Station, Route Seven buses (Fashion Square Mall & Downtown) will follow an adapted route that will send outbound buses from West Main left onto JPA, continue on to Emmet and continue as usual. Inbound buses will travel on Emmet street, JPA, West Main, and then as usual downtown.

"We aren't following the main detour because of the size of our vehicles," says Harris, who says there will be new temporary stops on Emmet outside of the UVA Bookstore parking garage and on JPA near New Cabell Hall.

"I would expect [the detour] to create slight delays because there will be more traffic in those areas than usual," says Harris, adding that buses will continue to be dispatched every 15 minutes, and the time-points will stay the same. According to Harris, the only thing that will change is the time it takes buses to get from the 11th and Main stop to Barracks Road–a difference projected to be about three or four minutes.

Additionally, some web-related features will not function during the interim. "We can't track the buses because they are off-route," says Harris, referring to the new technology on the CTS web site which allows riders to go online and see when the next bus is coming.

UVA spokeseperson Carol Wood says a firm called Waco Inc. will perform the work for under $350,000.

VDOT has a schedule of fees it charges firms that wish to close state-owned roads, but some commuters may wonder if UVA will compensate taxpayers or inconvenienced drivers. We were unable to find an answer by deadline.

1 comment

Came through that mess last night. They still have the green traffic light in operation for eastbound traffic. And there is NO eastbound traffic now of course. Hope somebody in the traffic department can figure out this is a problem and reprogram the three directions of traffic lights that are actually being used.