Some area residents are pushing back against Charlottesville’s plans to again seek state funding for a project at the intersection of Preston and Grady avenues.
City staff held a virtual public engagement meeting on Tuesday to discuss the plan.
The project would connect Preston and Grady and Preston will T-off toward downtown. It includes sidewalks, bike lanes and improved public transit facilities.
The city is seeking funding under the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale program, which scores projects based on a variety of factors including safety and cost.
The project was slated to receive $5.9 million last year, but the Commonwealth Transportation Board instead gave money toward the intersection of Ridge Street, Fifth Street, Cherry Avenue and Elliott Avenue.
Brennen Duncan, the city’s traffic engineer, said the intersection was part of the priority intersections that came out of the city’s Streets That Work plan.
Duncan said that through public engagement, officials determined that “this is the one intersection in the city that is the worst.” He said a road expansion in the 1960s left a “weird conglomeration” of roads in the area that is “not efficient” for drivers or pedestrians.
More than 80 people signed up to participate in the virtual meeting and many said the city needs to do a larger study of the area. Others were concerned that the new configuration would direct traffic along Grady Avenue.
Duncan said that vehicles that need to continue down Preston Avenue will take that route and aren’t likely to go straight into Grady Avenue.
City officials also stressed that the proposal is only a concept and was necessary to determine cost for the application. They said that the design could change once funding is awarded.
“The city has a horrific history of ignoring the whims of the people. And that should be troubling and bothersome to everyone, especially to city staff,” said resident Don Gathers.
The project would also hurt access to businesses in the area by redirecting Preston Avenue, Gathers said.
“I think this is just another avenue to make access easier for [the University of Virginia], which drives so much of what goes on in the city of Charlottesville. It’s bothersome, it’s sickening especially when they don’t even consider themselves part of the city,” he said. “I really wish that at some point the city would consider the whims, wants and wishes of the community.”
One speaker advocated for a traffic circle at the intersection. Duncan said that option had been considered, but surrounding businesses would have needed to be demolished and the cost was too much.
Ralph Brown said that the project would impact the predominately African American community near Grady Avenue and the city should consider other options.
“I’m suggesting to you that the sacrifice of the African American community thus far has been sufficient for the city of Charlottesville to find another way to accomplish this mission,” he said. “Of course I have no hope that that’s going to happen simply because you’ve never listened.”
Councilor Sena Magill, who lives in the area, was concerned that once the city secured funding, options for the project would be severely limited.
“This does worry me that … how we design that intersection with the funds ends up dictating the way we are looking at the community as a whole,” she said. “And then, instead of the vision for the community of 10th and Page dictating the intersection, it’s the intersection that starts dictating the vision of the community.”
Alex Ikefuna, director of Neighborhood Development Services, said the City Council will consider a resolution of support for the application at its July 20 meeting.
The application will be submitted in August and projects will be selected in 2021. Funding wouldn’t be available until 2025.
The city is also seeking input through a community survey at surveymonkey.com/r/9F5S9CX