Monthly Archive for March, 2013

Eastern Connector Back on the Table

The Metropolitan Planning Organization wants to re-study the possibility of an “eastern connector,” Sean Tubbs reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. As the planned western bypass will route traffic around the city to the west, the idea is to have a corresponding road routing traffic around the city to the east. Of course, the bypass already does both of these things, so this would be another bypass bypass. The idea is basically to connect these two points:

Map with markers at Rio/29 and Pantops

If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve already gone through this. At a 2007 public hearing, the public overwhelmingly opposed it. Then, in 2008, $500,000 in studies found that every possible road alignment was either ineffective or impossible. So later that year, both the BOS and City Council shelved the matter, and in 2011 the BOS finally eliminated it from their plans entirely. Without carving an entirely new road through a densely settled, suburban portion of the county, studies found that the only remaining options wouldn’t actually save anybody any time. Starting it farther north would be plowing through Forest Lakes, ending it farther east would go through Keswick estates.

So what’s changed? Well, nothing, except that there’s a $250,000 federal grant that the MPO figures they could get to study the ecological impact of an impossible or ineffective new road. Supervisors Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow say that they’d want the road to bypass Pantops entirely, since that’s become such a tangle, but doing that would involve going either over or through the Southwest Mountains, a feat on the scale of Claudius Crozet’s famous tunnel through the Blue Ridge, with the added twist of having to then run the road straight through some of the most valuable estates in Virginia. More than a century ago, there was a road crossing the Southwest Mountains at Hammocks Gap, as a part of the route to the Rivanna River from Milton but that was abandoned in favor of less arduously steep routes to the north (now Route 33 in Orange) and to the south (now 250 over Pantops).

And the cycle begins again.

Bypass Design to Be Much Slower

An internal VDOT report finds that the design of the Western Bypass, as accepted in the form of the lowest bid for the project, requires an average of nearly three minutes to clear the southern interchange. As Sean Tubbs explains for Charlottesville Tomorrow, entering the bypass bypass from the south, on Old Ivy Road, involves intersections and traffic lights, rather than a standard flyover entrance ramp, a decision apparently made to save money. Although that saves tens of millions of dollars, it also adds 1:48 to the average trip. Some years ago VDOT found that the road would only save an average of something like 90 seconds over the existing route; adding 108 seconds to that would appear to negate its benefits. (If any total time-saved numbers have been calculated for the planned design, over the existing 29->bypass->29 route, I’m not aware of them.)

Since this is the obvious route for traffic leaving big events at Scott Stadium and the John Paul Jones arena, that means big delays and long lines to get onto the road. Adding to the difficulties, part of how the ostensible cost of this project was shaved down to $136M is that, accelerating away from that light, vehicles will be going up a 11.4% grade. It’s difficult to overstate how steep that is. The steepest highways in the country include I-70 in Colorado when crossing the Rockies (8%), and I-17 out of Phoenix (7%). US-64 in Tennessee used to get up to 8% when going over Monteagle Mountain, but that was too dangerous, and has since been reengineered to be less steep. So trucks pulling away from that light are going to take a very, very long time to get up to speed. These two factors probably do a lot to explain the extra 1:48 that this intersection-based entrance ramp will result in.



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