How does the public pick a path for a new road? Most of those attending an initial meeting May 22 for the Eastern Connector couldn’t even tell you why we need the road in the first place. They asked: Why are we connecting Route 29 to Route 250 East? Why don’t we talk about better mass transit? Even county Supervisor Ken Boyd said he thought we should be looking at a route outside the study area.
But lead consultant Lewis Grimm of PBS&J never acted perturbed by the hostile questions and angry accusations. He dismissed the idea that Charlottesville residents were too much. “In my experience, no worthwhile project is implemented until it’s old enough to vote,” said Grimm, who walked through projects he’s worked on in other college towns, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “It just takes a long time.”
Sarah Hendley isn’t necessarily against the Eastern Connector—but she’s dead set against it coming through Pen Park. “I simply can’t understand how anyone could consider putting a road through the park,” says Hendley, a River Run resident who’s gathered 1,003 signatures to protest the idea.
Grimm, along with city and county staffers, held the meeting to gather input from locals about what PBS&J should be aware of in studying whether an Eastern Connector is even feasible, and if so, where it could go. The new road would link Route 29N to 250 on Pantops, giving commuters an alternative to oft-traffic-jammed Free Bridge. The city and county governments are splitting a $500,000 bill for PBS&J.
One place where local resident Sarah Hendley doesn’t want it to go is Pen Park. “In this time of growth, it seems to me that it’s vital that we protect our parklands,” Hendley says. Since last spring, she’s gathered over 1,000 signatures opposing any route that takes the Eastern Connector through the park. Hendley also says that it would violate federal law, as the park was bought with federal grant money. “How do our local officials justify overruling federal law?”
Broken into smaller groups, those at the public meeting pored over a color map of the study area, trying to figure out how to get a road over the vast spaces of blue (the Rivanna River), green (Pen and Darden Towe parks) and the other colors showing current development.
One gentleman commented to the group: “It’s probably 20 years too late for this.” His idea of river taxis bombed completely.
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