New view: UVA revs up North Grounds Connector

The views from Darden, UVA's nationally ranked business school, are about to dramatically change.

Construction of the North Grounds Connector that will ferry roundball fans from UVA's swanky new John Paul Jones Arena to the U.S. 29/250 bypass starts February 28.

The half-mile-long, privately funded $4.1-million road will zip those coming up 29 from the south right over to the arena. Getting home won't be quite as easy because the initial structure won't provide an interchange for southbound travel on 29.

UVA decided to make a simpler connection to the bypass– rather than risk interchange changes for a western 29 bypass that may never materialize.

"We don't know what the final decision on the western bypass with be," says Dick Laurance, UVA's project director. "We don't want to throw away $13 million."

Faulconer Construction will soon erect site fencing and begin turning soil. The Rivanna Trail and student shortcuts from nearby apartments will be detoured.

The connector will take shape as trees are cleared from the major gully beside the North Grounds Recreation Center to the bypass, followed by "grubbing," the technical term for taking out stumps.

Almost as soon as graduation is over May 22, Massie Road will close for the summer, to re-emerge before students return in August in an elevated (and ultimately stop-lighted) intersection with the North Grounds Connector.

To fill the plunging gully in the path of the connector, Laurance says other hills en route to the bypass will give up an extra 50,000 cubic yards of dirt– more than enough for this project. "I got a lot of calls from people who want some," he says.

Laurance insists the connector isn't just for game traffic. "It will relieve congestion around the university," he says.

The road is set to open in June 2006, which segues nicely with the planned completion of the arena that summer.

At a press conference, Laurance extols some of the virtues of the 15,000-seat, state-of-the-art arena, "the largest indoor arena in Virginia," he says. Columns outside will give the $130 million facility that Jeffersonian touch.

"We're on schedule; we're on budget," he says.

In the multi-purpose arena, along with 30 basketball games a year, Laurance foresees circuses, tractor pulls, and rodeos. "We'll be wiring the sound system so we can bring in Dave Matthews or Earth Wind and Fire," which means, unlike U-Hall, the acoustics will be good. And unlike U-Hall, the arena will be air conditioned.

Rather than stadiums for rock shows, Laurance says 6,000-to-8,000-seat arenas are the big sellers now. And with the flexibility of the seating in JP Jones, perhaps DMB's next Charlottesville concert will be a more intimate experience than the Scott Stadium extravaganza of '01.

Connection of the North Grounds Connector is poised to commence February 28.


John Paul Jones Arena is the second largest construction project in UVA's history, topped only by the medical center.