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More questions raised about Belmont Bridge replacements
Brian Wimer, Amoeba Films
by Sean Tubbs | Friday, May 09, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.

Charlottesville citizens had a second chance Thursday to ask questions about two competing visions for the replacement of the deteriorating Belmont Bridge.

The City Council will hold a public hearing June 16 to decide whether to build an “enhanced” bridge or construct an underpass to carry motorists, pedestrians and cyclists on Route 20 through eastern Charlottesville.

MMM Design has presented two options for an “enhanced” bridge that feature different configurations than the original bridge replacement it unveiled in 2011.

Each is estimated to involve the closure of Avon Street between 12 to 18 months.

The firm Siteworks Studios and architect Jim Rounsevell estimate their underpass option would take between 24 and 32 months, with only six months of road closure.      

The firm Barton Malow was hired by the city to develop cost estimates between the three scenarios.

An option for MMM’s steel arch bridge would be around $18 million whereas one without the arch would be $16.4 million.

“Both of these bridges could be recognized as a gathering place,” said MMM engineer Wiley Cooke. “You’d really have a comfortable approach to downtown.”

The underpass option is currently estimated at $27 million, a figure Rounsevell disputes.

He said that site borings conducted in 1961 and 2008 show where bedrock is located, and that his interpretation of them is that the underpass option would not encounter too many unforeseen problems during construction.

Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services, said Barton Malow will continue working with Rounsevell on the cost estimate in advance of the June 16 hearing.

“I wish I could say we knew exactly what either option would cost, but we haven’t had the same amount of engineering for all three options,” Tolbert said.

A similar meeting was held in late April, but this time Rounsevell took a different approach during his 20-minute presentation. He began by thanking filmmaker Brian Wimer for organizing public opposition to MMM’s original design.

After seeing that option, Wimer spearheaded a design contest whose winner envisioned an at-grade crossing with the CSX Railroad. That’s when Siteworks and Rounsevell began work on the underpass option.

“Otherwise, an uninspired highway bridge would have just been completed and a golden opportunity would have been missed,” Rounsevell said.

Rounsevell showed a video that featured digital renderings of how the underpass and a companion pedestrian bridge would look. These were interspersed with testimonials from city residents who support the option.

After the presentations, citizens asked questions to help prepare staff for the June meeting.

One person asked what would happen if the council decides to pursue the underpass option.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board has allocated around $14.5 million for construction of the bridge. Tolbert said it is unclear at this point whether that money could be applied to the underpass.

“What we’d have to do is go back to the CTB and ask them to create a project for an underpass because they would view these as two separate items,” Tolbert said. “They’d have to make a decision about whether to give us additional funds.”

Another person asked if there were any deadlines that would jeopardize funding.

“I wish I could say yes or no,” said Tolbert. “The word we get from the CTB is they want to see us moving quickly but that’s all the answer we’re going to get.

“What we do know is that they have said there would have to be new environmental work done and there would have to be some design work beyond where we are now,” he added.

Bike activist Ruth Stornetta asked what the bike lane widths would be in both options.

Under both enhanced bridge options, vehicular traffic would be restricted to two 11-foot lanes. That would create space for 15-foot sidewalks and two 10-foot bike areas.

Rounsevell said the underpass retains three traffic lanes, allowing for two five-foot sidewalks and two 5-foot bike lanes. However, he said that could change, adding that the vision of the underpass is more important than the details at this point.

“It can be anything you want,” Rounsevell said.

Rounsevell said the underpass would go 24 feet below the existing grade at its lowest point. Three bridges spanning 66 feet would be built to carry Water Street, Avon Street, and the railroad across Route 20.

“You have to have a 16.6-foot clearance to get a tractor trailer underneath the bridges,” Rounsevell said.

Rounsevell said the design speed for the highway is 25 miles an hour.

“When you’re coming from the Spudnuts side, I believe it’s a 7.5 percent or 8 percent grade,” Rounsevell said. “As you come back up, it’s a 9 percent grade coming back up to Market Street but that meets the guidelines for this kind of roadway.”

Some attendees were frustrated they were not allowed to have a dialog at the meeting but Wimer said he would happily conduct a private meeting.

“We don’t have to involve the city to discuss a city process,” Wimer said.

Allison Linney, a consultant was hired to coordinate community meetings about the replacement project, explained that people would have the opportunity to give their opinion at the June public hearing. After that, the City Council may make a decision.

“Many things are possible once council gives direction,” Linney said.


Photo-simulation of proposed 9th Street Underpass

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