Sunday, April 5, 2009

Father of the Virginia Constitution Eviscerates the Proposed Meadowcreek Parkway

I received the following e-mail today from A.E. Dick Howard, Charlottesville resident, White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at UVa, and oft-described "Father of the Virginia Constitution." Reprinted with permission, it lays out a crisp and trenchant argument as to why this road is a bad deal for our City. I've tried, but I couldn't have said it better myself.

Dear Dave:

I have lived in downtown Charlottesville (at 627 Park Street) since 1965. I was among a generation of local people who, believing in the prospects for and future of downtown Charlottesville, resolved to work for the revival of this part of the city at a time when many people had little hope for its future. Intervening years have justified my vision. Downtown Charlottesville has become, in the intervening years, a genuine community-- family friendly, highly livable, a place in which local citizens can take pride.

The proposed Meadowcreek Parkway will deal a blow to this revival. Designed to divert traffic from US29, it will drive a stake through the heart of the city. It will benefit county developers and business interests at the expense of those of us who live in the city. Once upon a time, there was a regional transportation plan, in which the county would bear its share of regional traffic needs. That plan is now in tatters. The Western Bypass will not be built. The North Grounds Connector is but a truncated part of what had been proposed. There is no reason to believe that the county will ever build an Eastern Connector (despite the fact that such a large part of traffic on the 250 Bypass goes between Pantops on the east and US29 on the north). What we are left with is the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway -- a plan to solve county traffic problems at the immediate and direct expense of city residents.

Meadowcreek Parkway, if built, will extract a high price from Charlottesville and its citizens, especially those who live downtown.

1. The Parkway will erode the quality of McIntire Park and have a direct impact on historical resources, such as the Rock Hill gardens (which, as Daniel Bluestone has eloquently argued, could be a major local resource). Traffic flowing through the park will turn the pleasurable sylvan and bucolic experience of walkers and others who use the park into something more nearly like being near an expressway.

2. Overall traffic volume through the downtown area will increase.Vast numbers of these cars will be headed, not downtown, but from one part to the county to another. Developers with an interest in projects such as Biscuit Run will be the direct beneficiaries of the parkway. The notion that somehow the parkway is needed for the benefit of the Downtown Mall is nonsensical, as anyone who has watched the Downtown Mall thrive will attest.

3. Traffic from the parkway, arriving at McIntire Road, will spill into side streets, directly impacting the quality of life in downtown Charlottesville. Residential streets will become conduits for cut-through traffic.

4. The increased traffic, especially on McIntire Road, will tend to create blight, beginning with houses on that road (they will become rental properties), and spreading more generally. This will depress property values and the city's tax base.

5. With the parkway's construction, pressure will mount to make the parkway four lanes rather than two. There will be further pressure to add traffic lanes to McIntire Road. This will destroy the recently created Schenck's Branch Park. Then, inevitably, there will bepressure to widen Ridge Street, destroying that historic district. This unhappy step will recall the destruction of Vinegar Hill and the displacement of its citizens -- a lesson which should not be not be repeated at the expense of those who live along Ridge Street. Ultimately, building the parkway will be a major step toward creating a means for traffic to get from US29 on the north to Interstate 64 on the south -- again channeling through traffic into the heart of the city. This is the failed planning of the 1960s, an approach which enlightened cities (such as Portland, Oregon) have rejected.

6. The wedge driven though the heart of Charlottesville will tend to separate the University part of town from downtown, severing the sense of community which many have sought (for example, by improvements on West Main Street) to enhance.

7. All of this is made worse by the proposed US250 interchange. This is an industrial-strength project forced into a constricted residentialand parkland setting. It is no accident that the team being called upon to design the interchange takes pride in having designed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge crossing the Potomac in Northern Virginia. The interchange will reach the height of telephone poles and will project noise across a large residential area. Not many people in Charlottesville would swap their life style for that of Northern Virginia. It is ironic that an interchange better suited for an interstate highway in Manassas would be thrust upon our community.

The injuries being done to our city by the parkway proposal are compounded by the proponents' evasion of state and federal law. There is serious doubt whether the Council's simple majority vote to convey the easement of city land for the project satisfies the requirements of the Constitution of Virginia. It is true that a local judge has refused to grant a preliminary injunction, but that judgment does not reach the merits of the case (judges are typically reluctant to grant a preliminary injunction in cases like this). Even more serious is the manner in which the parkway has been deliberately segmented in a way to avoid federal environmental impact review. Ever since the proposal for a parkway first surfaced, common sense obliges us to understand that this is one project. Yet now we are told that there are severable, free-standing projects, one of which, the so-called McIntire Road Extended, ends in the middle of the park. In truth, there is one project, not more. The only reason to pretend there are segments is to create a fiction -- that a parkway is being built with state funds (thus avoiding federal environmental impact review), separate from the interchange, being built with federal funds. Fictions of this kind are an insult to the intelligence.

During my decades of living in downtown Charlottesville, I have been actively engaged in the affairs of our community. There is no single issue which has aroused my concerns for our city more than that arising from the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway. Countless fellow citizens feel as strongly about this issue as I do.

With best regards,
A. E. Dick Howard

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