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Albemarle Supervisors divided on Pantops pedestrian bridge
Supervisors Norman Dill and Brad Sheffield, January 6, 2016
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Supervisors Norman Dill (left) and Brad Sheffield (right)
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Sean Tubbs | Wednesday, January 06, 2016 at 9:08 p.m.

A study of potential pedestrian crossings on U.S. 250 on Pantops and U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville will be delayed until the new Albemarle Board of Supervisors can set priorities for infrastructure to make the county more walkable.

The decision to not proceed with the study was made after some supervisors expressed concerns that a proposed pedestrian bridge on Pantops might go forward before other projects.

“I’m frustrated that I’ve had two years of conversations with staff about a lot of dysfunction I see just in the Rio District and yet we’re concentrating on this big, shiny new project,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield who represents the district. “I’ve got older neighborhoods that have no pedestrian or bicycle networks.”

A pedestrian bridge across U.S. 250 has been a major priority of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee, a group of citizens that oversees implementation of the Pantops Master Plan. More than 300 people have signed an online petition to create a pedestrian crossing at U.S. 250 and Rolkin Road.

New Rivanna District Supervisor Norman Dill sought to advance their cause by asking that a pedestrian bridge project be studied separately from other potential pedestrian crossings elsewhere in the county.

“I’m a little worried about it being lost when we’re doing a study of seven or eight crossings on U.S. 29, most of which aren’t near residential communities,” Dill said. “On Pantops, there is clearly a need with hundreds of new homes there whose residents can’t get across U.S. 250 to shop.”

The county’s transportation planner said the study would look at both above-grade and at-grade crossings to determine if there is a need.

“This is a study just to give us the knowledge and the data needed to make a decision,” said Albemarle planner Gerald Gatobu. “If we’re going to look at above-grade pedestrian crossings, there is an element of justification that we need.”

Gatobu said without the data, it will be much harder to justify bridges costing millions of dollars.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she could support studying the Pantops bridge separate from the others because the project would likely be paid through a Virginia Department of Transportation revenue-sharing grant. Those projects fall outside the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s new prioritization process.

“Perhaps it could be separated out independently to identify that we have a take-off and landing point for sure,” Mallek said. She added that pedestrians don’t cross the road now because it’s too dangerous and using existing volumes would not be accurate.

However, other supervisors wondered if the Pantops project should be prioritized over others that have been waiting.

“I’m a little concerned that I not support something that leapfrogs something else because it was moved in very quickly,” Vice Chairwoman Diantha McKeel said. “I need to understand what the real safety issues are.”

Supervisor Richard Randolph suggested that a tunnel underneath Pantops be considered as well.

“I’d much rather have us look at a series of creative designs and then we talk about a pilot study,” Randolph said.

Dill said the bridge would help fulfill the vision of Pantops.

“That’s meant to be a community area,” Dill said. “We have a museum there, we have the hospital, the Rivanna River and the hundreds of houses that are already there don’t have any access to that part of the community.”

He said a successful Pantops bridge could become a prototype for other projects in the urban ring, adding that he believed businesses in the area might contribute to some of the costs.

Sheffield said supervisors needed to set priorities first before funding any more studies.

County executive Tom Foley said he would schedule a time for the board to further discuss ways to enhance the county’s pedestrian and bike networks.

County staff members, for example, are currently planning several sidewalk projects funded through the VDOT revenue-sharing program including one on Ivy Road.

Supervisors were clear Wednesday they want a bike lane between Old Ivy Road and the U.S. 250 bypass. The plan would see a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on southern side of the road as well as a 4-foot-wide bike lane.

County transportation engineer Jack Kelsey said a bike lane would be difficult to install on the northern side of the road because it would require permission from the railroad for a grading easement.

“There’s also some underground utilities through that area that would have to be relocated, and the cost would be exorbitant,” Kelsey said.

However, a waiver from VDOT will be required to allow for the current shared-turn lane to co-exist with the eastbound lane. That would allow for a 4-foot-wide bike lane.

Cyclists in the westbound traffic lane still would need to share the road with vehicles.
 

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