Eastern Connector hits ‘bump in the road’
Last night, City Councilors expressed shock that the Florida-based consultant hired to to study the so-called Eastern Connector, a road proposed to link Pantops with Route 29, had recommended chopping right through the city instead of some hoped-for alignments through Albemarle County terrain.
"There's been a little bump in the road," Mayor Dave Norris told fellow Councilors as he revealed that the half-million-dollar study (half paid by the City) produded a report last week whose alternatives all run through the City.
"If you look at the numbers," City planning chief Jim Tolbert told Council, "the Eastern Connector probably could have a place as the most important road that could be built to relieve traffic in Charlottesville, but there's nowhere to put it. The County has allowed development to occur over the past 20-25 years in every feasible place that we could put it in without condemming a lot of houses."
Tolbert listed the consultants' four alternatives: widening Free Bridge, widening Route 250, building a bridge between High Street and the Rose's store, and building a bridge near River Road.
"Our $250,000 is not speaking too well," said Councilor Julian Taliaferro.
Councilor David Brown said he thought a couple of County alignments seemed feasible but that the state budget crisis makes it tough. "This would be a big-ticket item," said Brown, "that would add itself to a long list of big-ticket items."
While the Councilors agreed to send a letter to the consultant, Lewis Grimm of PBS&J, urging a "return to the drawing board," the two freshmen on Council saw what one of them, Holly Edwards, termed a "window of opportunity to start looking at and thinking about alternative forms of transportation."
Edwards proposed getting "creative" and "radical" about extracting people from their cars. "Instead of leveraging a few dollars for roads," said Edwards, "[we should be] leveraging dollars for alternative transportation."
"I couldn't agree more with the comments expressed by Ms. Edwards," said Mayor Norris. "The next major investment in our region should not be another huge swath of very expensive asphalt. Let's use this as an opportunity to leverage the kind of investment that Ms. Edwards describes and figure out how to get people off the highway."
By voice vote, the Councilors agreed to put a sentence in its letter urging a look at alternative transportation.
Four years ago, then City Councilor Kevin Lynch offered some specific proposals for solving local transportation gridlock, including bravely (because politicians almost never get this specific) outlining four potential alignments for the Eastern Connector.
Before last night's meeting, watchdog group Charlottesville Tomorrow crafted an informative update of recent Connector debate.