Monday, April 1, 2013

What Happened to Previous Most Endangered Sites? New Market Corridor (Rt. 5)

When the New Market Corridor (Rt. 5) was proposed for the 2012 Virginia’s Most Endangered List, the future looked bleak.   Henrico County had just invested substantial funds in a report that proposed two alternatives to relieve future traffic challenges and make way for development of the region—both called for widening Route 5 to a four-lane divided highway, destroying the character that so defines this gateway to East Richmond.

Why does that matter?  For starters, data – and real-world examples – show that wider roads don’t improve traffic.  Just look at Short Pump.  Nor is residential and commercial development the best – much less only – economic development option for Eastern Henrico.

The New Market Corridor Coalition sees a better way.  The New Market Corridor is the opposite of Short Pump—a tranquil transition from rural Route 5 through the narrow entry point into Shockoe Bottom and the artsy and inventive rehabilitated industrial corridor of restaurants, shops, businesses and residences that make up Shockoe Bottom.  It is where more than 400 years of history played out from Virginia Indian settlements, Revolutionary skirmishes, Civil War battlefields and farms harvesting the rich soil.  The corridor links Jamestown, Williamsburg and Richmond and is distinguished by the plantations and African American neighborhoods that have existed for centuries. Tourism and agriculture are the two largest industries in Virginia.  The Coalition asked, “How can these assets become the guiding principles for the Rt. 5 planning?”

The coalition nominated the New Market Corridor to the 2012 list of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites.  With dogged determination, the Coalition used the listing as a vehicle to gain attention for an alternative to the insensitive widening plan.  They met with property owners.  They educated decision makers in the County and in the City of Richmond as to the benefits of exploring alternatives that leveraged the existing agricultural, heritage tourism and recreational assets of the corridor.  They posited that in the long run, investing in resolving the traffic problem by exploring traffic calming solutions, alternative routes and bus transportation would effectively resolve any anticipated traffic increases, maintain the unique character and attract residents and businesses more effectively. 

The compelling and hard fought argument for why the alternatives should be voted down by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) became a reality in December.  The MPO voted to table both alternatives—providing a three year respite to explore alternative plans.  The Coalition could have declared victory.  Instead it organized for the long run—to be a partner with Henrico County and support pro-preservation, pro-agriculture, pro-heritage tourism planning. 

 The Coalition expanded and now includes interested parties from Greater Fulton Hill Neighborhood Center, Church Hill Neighborhood Association, ROOT Henrico, Varina Beautification Committee, Henrico Preservation Association, Historic Richmond Foundation, Scenic Virginia, Virginia Conservation Network, Civil War Trust, and Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Partnership for Smarter Growth.  They formed five standing committees to actively explore tools that support agriculture, tourism, easements, and special character protection design and community transportation alternatives.  The New Market Corridor Coalition is in it for the long haul. 

Preservation Virginia is proud to be a partner in the Coalition.  Looks for updates—we have a feeling this group is going to make history! 

No comments: