Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sierra Club Endorses Local Candidates at City Hall This Morning

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club held a press conference this morning in front of Charlottesville's City Hall to encourage voters to consider supporting candidates who have demonstrated a strong commitment to environmental stewardship. I am happy to report that I was one of the candidates endorsed by the Piedmont Group. Their Endorsements of candidates in Local Races notice is posted on their website.

I have been actively involved both professionally and as an involved citizen in environmental issues since accepting a position right out of college in the National Air Pollution Control Administration in 1970 - just after the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970. I am committed to ensuring actions taken by city council will always consider environmental sensitivity and will encourage input from the environmental community in helping the city work toward achieving its environmental sustainability vision.

To help you understand why the Piedmont Group selected me for endorsement, I will post over the next several days the eight questions with my answers in the Sierra Club's Survey of Candidates that were used as a part of the endorsement decision. The first question is of particular interest in that an item (including a public hearing) related to possibly granting a construction easement to VDOT for the McIntire Road Extended project through McIntire Park is on city council's October 1, 2007 agenda. So, here is question 1 (of 8):

1) What is your position on the Meadowcreek Parkway?

My Answer:

I am opposed to the development of the Meadowcreek Parkway (which I believe officially consists of three components: 1) the Meadow Creek Parkway project in Albemarle County; 2) the McIntire Road Extended project in Charlottesville, and the Route 250 Bypass Interchange at McIntire Road project also in Charlottesville). I have actively been involved in the community discussion about the project development process itself as well as the scope and design of this project and the impacts it will likely have on our local environment. In general, I believe that this project was designed to solve transportation problems of the 1960’s, but that this project is not a viable solution to our transportation problems of the present and future.

1.1 The Project Development Process:

McIntire Park is a public park protected under section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act that prohibits use of public parkland for highway development if federal funds are used except in very limited circumstances that do not apply in this case. I contend that the interchange and the McIntire Road Extended projects must be considered under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as one project, and that development of this project as independent segments is not in compliance with these federal statues.

I have suggested to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the local Metropolitan Planning organization, and the city of Charlottesville that this project should be developed as one project and considered along with other alternative transit and roadway projects (such as a possible Eastern Connector between northern and eastern Albemarle County) in their ability to meet our current and future transportation needs.

1.2 Environmental Impacts of the Parkway project:

Building a highway of this type through our major parkland will have many negative impacts in the community as well as in use of the park itself. The roadway improvements will be elevated above the surrounding terrain and will generate a significant increases in traffic noise in surrounding neighborhoods and the park. My own noise analysis using FHWA noise assessment modeling tools indicates that the entire eastern portion of the park will be too noisy for quiet activities in the park. The anticipated noise levels will be only consistent with active recreation (e.g. sport activities) if the parkway is constructed as currently envisioned. Only a small portion of the eastern section of the park is currently experiencing traffic noise levels not suitable for quiet activities.

Other environmental impacts include increased stormwater and roadway runoff entering the environmentally sensitive Schenk’s Branch that is immediately adjacent to the proposed roadway, disturbance of 20 to 30 acres of parkland through regrading in the vicinity of Schenk’s Branch. No satisfactory solution for the handling of the stormwater in McIntire park resulting from this project has yet been engineered.

1.3 Traffic related impacts of the Parkway project:

As currently proposed, the project is anticipated to carry about 20,000 additional vehicles total into and out of the north downtown area of Charlottesville. McIntire Road, which is currently a heavily congested road, will carry those vehicles destined for downtown Charlottesville leading to further increased congestion. I anticipate that this congestion will lead to increased cut-through traffic in neighborhoods north of downtown and will result in congestion in other areas of Charlottesville as well.

The proponents of this project have not adequately demonstrated that this project – even if moved forward in compliance with federal regulations – provides identifiable transportation benefits consistent with the multi-million dollar cost of the project. I believe our transportation future would be far better if these resources were reprogrammed to other more beneficial transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and roadway system improvements.

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