By Jason Ha & Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A sidewalk on the eastern side of the deteriorating Belmont Bridge in Charlottesville will remain closed until the structure is fully replaced.

Council voted 3-2 last week to spend $14,000 on a new aluminum fence to keep pedestrians off the east side of the bridge.

Mayor Dave Norris , who voted against the fence, said he had hoped to find a way to keep the bridge open to the pedestrians.

“If this was a pathway for vehicles, we wouldn’t think of closing it down for 4 or 5 years,” Norris said.  “We would do what it takes to keep it open.”

City Councilor Holly Edwards , the second dissenter, said she was concerned funding for the bridge would not materialize for several years.

“Maybe we should consider how we value pedestrians [by] making the investment in the bridge,” she said.

Jim Tolbert , the city’s director of Neighborhood Development Services , reminded Council that the bridge is crumbling and the city is currently saving money to pay for its replacement.

“We don’t’ know when that might happen,” Tolbert explained.

Tolbert told Council they could choose to spend $300,000 on repairs that would re-open the eastern sidewalk but that he did not recommend such a large expenditure.  Instead, he presented them with an option to spend $14,000 on a 600-foot long aluminum fence to improve safety and keep pedestrians from using it.

“Aluminum is much lighter and will not have the impact on the footprint of attachment on the sidewalk,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert also said he had considered two of the Council’s previous suggestions to improve the barrier’s appearance.  The first suggestion  was to include flower baskets in the project.

“Our parks department recommended not to go that way because of difficulty of watering them…and safety to the crews who would try to access them,” Tolbert said.

Another suggestion was to include art displays.  Tolbert said he was concerned that might create distractions for drivers and also could also be dangerous to pedestrians who would walk across the road to take a closer look at them.

Tolbert ultimately recommended the city invest in the fence  and convince the VDOT to fully fund the bridge replacement project.

Tolbert also reported that most pedestrians use the western side of the bridge, and that an LED crosswalk would be installed at the southern end near Spudnuts to allow pedestrians to signal that they want to cross the road.