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Pocahontas Parkway Project Is Delayed; Feuding UR Dean and Faculty Seek Truce; Demolition Fated for Diverter; Reported Rape at School Raises Questions; Red Cross Needs Help Counting Donations; VDOT Moves Ahead at Patterson and Parham

Street Talk

Pocahontas Parkway Project Is Delayed

Daredevil drivers eager to try out the soaring ramps of the underconstruction Pocahontas Parkway will have to be patient.

"We're going to be late," says Herb Morgan, I-895 project manager for Fluor Daniel and Morrison Knudsen, the two firms jointly responsible for construction. Engineers had originally been confident they'd make the April 9, 2002, completion deadline, but it may now be a year before traffic starts rolling, Morgan says.

The holdup in construction is the James River Bridge, Morgan says. It's likely the main contractors — Condotte America Inc. and McLean Contracting Co. — won't finish the work until August or September, he says. After that, at least a month of work will remain to install fixtures such as lights and signs.

Reasons for the delay are complex, Morgan says. One was the difficulty in hiring a large skilled labor force at a time of low unemployment in Richmond.

Brian Quinlan, project manager for Condotte and Recchi America Inc., said his company expected to find people experienced in highway construction when it arrived in town. But out of more than 200 employees it hired for the project, only about a dozen had ever worked on something similar. "Virtually all the people who work here have done minimal construction and got their bridge training on-site," Quinlan says.

But now they've got the hang of it, he says, and since early summer "we've been rolling right along." Quinlan says it's still possible the eastbound bridge lanes may be completed by April.

At least the state won't have to pay for the delay, Morgan points out. Contractors will have to foot the bill instead.

The Pocahontas Parkway is the first project constructed under Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, which allowed it to be funded mainly by the sale of private bonds, not public funds. When April 9, 2002, was set as the deadline, construction firms agreed that for every day the project was delayed, the "responsible parties" would pay damages of $25,500 per day.

Those fees will be collected by VDOT and then transferred to trustee SunTrust Banks Inc., Morgan says. SunTrust will use the money to reduce debt service to bondholders.

Contractors and engineers planned to meet this week to determine if any part of the parkway would be open by the spring, says Dave Wesson, project manager for VDOT. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

Feuding UR Dean and Faculty Seek Truce

For months, the faculty members at the University of Richmond's T. C. Williams School of Law have been fuming about their dean.

But now administrators at UR hope to soothe professors and smooth differences.

The strained relations are unusual, says Rodney A. Smolla, a UR law professor. "In law schools, as in any organization, there are routine frictions and routine conflicts," he says. "Unfortunately, I think this is one that has gotten worse than a routine conflict."

In the spring, the law school's faculty, in an unofficial but unanimous vote, expressed no confidence in the dean, John R. Pagan, and called for his resignation.

"I have no plans to step down," says Pagan, who became dean in 1997. He says personnel issues provoked the dissension and acknowledges that some of his policy changes "have sparked some vociferous disagreement" among faculty members.

"I have linked pay very closely to performance," Pagan says.

He says other grudges, mostly about hiring and promotion decisions, have accumulated over the years. He won't elaborate.

Neither will Smolla, one of few faculty members willing to discuss the situation. It doesn't help now to rehash everything that happened, Smolla says.

"I think that the conflicts that we are currently facing are outside the range of normal and could have been avoided," Smolla says in measured tones. But he adds that the faculty and leaders of the law school are "now in a process of resolution that's rational and fair."

UR's president and provost, along with the law school's faculty and dean, have formed a task force to get disagreements out in the open and settle them.

Pagan says in four years he's seen the school come closer to being ranked among the nation's top 50 law schools. It's created three chairs for distinguished professors when there were none and raised $5.7 million toward a $6 million fund-raising goal.

The students entering now are the brightest ever, Pagan says, with a median GPA of 3.2. The percentage passing the bar exam on their first try is increasing. "To me, those are all indicia of success," Pagan says.

Smolla agrees. "I think the school has made many important gains," he says, "but, at the same time, I think that there are internal conflicts that are stalling our progress." — M.S.S.

Demolition Fated for Diverter

The hotly contested diverter at the corner of Ryland and Grace streets in the Fan is finally coming down.

On Nov. 5 the city of Richmond Department of Public Works plans to remove the curving curb that has shooed traffic away from the neighborhood to the west of the intersection. The diverter should be demolished by Nov. 6.

But cars still won't be able to drive too fast. In lieu of the diverter, westbound commuters — observing the unchanged 25-mph speed limit — can expect six new stop signs at intersections from Ryland to the Boulevard. A crew spent last weekend installing the new stop signs.

Ever since the diverter was installed in January 2000, city residents and commuters have argued over its effectiveness in funneling westbound traffic north to Broad Street. A study conducted more than a year ago by the city's public works department showed why.

While the diverter reduced weekday westbound Grace Street traffic by as much as 82 percent, it increased traffic on nearby roads and alleys, which were not equipped to handle it. And some drivers swerved around the diverter so they could continue west on Grace.

City Council decided to destroy the diverter months ago, but other projects and requests have stalled its demise, further frustrating many diverter opponents.

This week, people traveling west on Grace should be alert to the new signs, says Bill Farrar, a spokesman for the department of public works. "I'd hate to see someone come bounding up headed west and not know" that the traffic pattern has changed. — B.W.

Reported Rape at School Raises Questions

On Thursday, Oct. 11, a 15-year-old black female reported to Richmond Police that she had been raped at 4100 W. Grace Street.

What might have gone unnoticed by anyone who read the police report — or the summary of the report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch — is that the alleged rape took place at 1 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson High School, while school was in session.

Christy Collins, a Richmond Police spokeswoman, says the case has been referred to the child and family services crime unit.

James Bynum, director of public affairs for Richmond Public Schools, says the alleged incident took place while all students were supposed to be at an athletic event, an event that Bynum insists was safe and secured.

"The people involved decided to go to an unsecure area," he says. Bynum confirms that two students were involved in the incident, and says they went to a place where they weren't supposed to be.

"In terms of providing security for off-limits locations, we can't do that," Bynum explains. "There are some things that are very, very difficult to secure against."

Still, he says, the matter is something the school takes seriously. "There are a lot of questions here," he says. "If the question is: Where do we provide security? We provide security wherever the students are," says Bynum. "Are we satisfied with the level of security? Yes."

The Thomas Jefferson case is one of 12 cases of alleged rape or sexual assault reported to Richmond Police last month. — Lindsay Sterling and Brandon Walters

Red Cross Needs Help Counting Donations

The Richmond chapter of the Red Cross has received so many donations since Sept. 11 that it needs to find more people to record them all.

The local office, at 420 E. Cary St., received more than $4 million after Sept. 11. Now it's looking for five to 10 volunteers to help input the data into computers.

"The gifts have to be recorded," says Kathleen Burke Barrett, vice president of financial development for the local Red Cross. "We need volunteers with data-entry experience, since we have about 50,000 gifts that are waiting to be recorded. And that takes time."

The gifts came from individuals who sent in donations and from local companies. For example, Vatex America Inc., a Richmond-based T-shirt company, dropped off 10,000 individual checks worth more than $400,000.

Barrett says she is not sure how long the volunteers will be needed for the data-entry tasks. (She hints that it's likely they'll be reassigned to other volunteer efforts once they finish the project. "If we could get some people to work every day for five days a week …" she says. "But we'll work out a schedule.")

The Red Cross isn't soliciting more money for the September 11 Liberty Fund. But people are still sending it in. That money is being redirected to the national headquarters of the Red Cross for distribution in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. This means a slightly longer commitment from the volunteers. — Marlene Obado Dolla

VDOT Moves Ahead at Patterson and Parham

A public hearing is set for Nov. 19 to consider the fate of one of Henrico County's busiest intersections — Patterson Avenue at Parham Road.

It marks the first in a series of public meetings to determine how to ease traffic at the crossing, where 68,000 cars pass daily.

At the meeting, VDOT and county engineers will present six highway improvement options for citizens to discuss and debate. The six plans vary in cost and in complexity, says Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Caldwell.

"They range from adding turning lanes to putting in a cloverleaf," Caldwell says.

Once the options are narrowed to a few, a consultant will be hired to determine which one would permit traffic to flow most smoothly through the intersection. Caldwell says only then will VDOT, the county and citizens really have an idea of what to expect and how much the plan will cost.

Representatives from businesses that flank the roads, such as Tropical Treehouse, Burger King and others located in or near Beverly Hills Shopping Center, are being urged to attend the meeting and voice concerns, Caldwell says.

VDOT's latest step in the rearranging of the intersection has come sooner than many expected. For years, rumors have circulated about when construction might begin and force some area businesses to move. But business owners and residents haven't been holding their breath.

After all, it took Henrico planners 10 years to convince VDOT to move the proposed project to fifth on its list of regional projects and get $30 million earmarked to study it. The project, whatever it is, will be a partnership between VDOT and Henrico County. VDOT owns Patterson Avenue and the county owns Parham Road.

The Nov. 19 meeting is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. at Ridge Elementary School, located at 8910 Three Chopt Road in Henrico County.

Cindy Reynolds, manager of Tropical Treehouse, says she hasn't heard about the meeting, but says she's sure that merchants and residents will want to attend.

"We've been keeping an eye on places around the area that might make for a good relocation site," she says. "It has seemed like they've been out surveying a lot lately." — Brandon Walters

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