The Charlottesville City Council wants to make sure repairs to the Downtown Mall's two vehicular crossings will work before paying more than $100,000 for the project.
“We have a design that ostensibly looks like it’s going to be compatible with the mall, but it looks like the same design from 2008 that failed,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said at a council meeting earlier this week.
The original design for the mall, created by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, did not envision the crossing side streets being used by vehicles. However, in the 1990s, vehicles were permitted to use Second Street West, and Fourth Street East was opened to one-way traffic in 2006.
In 2007, preparation for a re-bricking of the mall began and the firm MMM Design was hired to create plans. The project, which was budgeted at $7.5 million and was completed in spring 2009, was to feature bricks laid in sand as opposed to being laid in mortar.
However, a decision was made to retain the mortar-laid bricks in a drainage feature known as a runnel.
These runnels were to have been laid next to a concrete banding but the Board of Architectural Review asked that this be changed to granite, as envisioned in the Halprin design.
However, both the granite and bricks in the runnel have broken due to the weight of trucks.
“By putting bricks that are sand-set adjacent to the granite, we’ve seen the granite break,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services.
City staff had recommended switching the granite to concrete and removing the runnels in the crossings.
They also recommended using shorter bricks set in asphalt to make them as stable as possible to eliminate rocking.
“That would keep the appearance close to what we have now,” Tolbert said.
The cost of repairs as planned by MMM Design would be $120,000.
Tolbert also suggested restricting the size of vehicle that could use the crossings.
“The constant pounding and the moving off to the side by the heavy trucks are causing our biggest problems,” Tolbert said. “We don’t think that if you allow heavy trucks that there is a brick solution based on the information that we’ve got.”
Some councilors complained they could not read the drawings that had been provided to them and that they needed more information about whether the design could withstand heavy loads.
“I’m very concerned that we will come back in another five years and need to spend another $120,000 if we’re not detailing and designing a durable, versatile road,” Galvin said.
However, other councilors were concerned that accommodating truck traffic was not consistent with the city’s vision for the mall.
“I do not want it to change from pedestrians having the priority,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja. “I do not want to just design a street to accommodate trucks.”
“The pedestrians come first, and so somebody walking down Main Street is the person I want to have the experience of saying, ‘this is my street,’ and the cars coming across the mall are interrupting that flow,” Councilor Kristin Szakos said.
An engineer from MMM Design was not present to answer questions.
Tolbert said he would return before the council with a new design at a later meeting. The work would not actually be conducted until after the summer peak season. He added that the cost estimate for the work could grow higher.
“The money amount may change if we come back with something radically different,” Tolbert said.