An artist’s rendering depicting the span of the Belmont Bridge through downtown Charlottesville (Source: MMM Design)

Charlottesville City Council received a very brief update on the replacement plans for Belmont Bridge at their meeting on April 6, 2009. The project has a current cost estimate of $9 million, according to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert. Construction will not begin until at least 2014 when the City is expected to have received enough funding for the project.  It has accumulated state funding and federal commitments to allow for preliminary engineering work by MMM Design. MMM is the company that oversaw the design of the downtown mall renovations.

“From an engineering standpoint, any engineers could design a bridge,” Tolbert said. “But because of this bridge and because of where it’s located… the aesthetic pieces of this and the functionality are really the important things.” Tolbert added that MMM Design has proven their understanding of the need to make the bridge more than just about cars. They will now begin a design process that Tolbert said would last at least two years. He said a special effort would be made to reach out to the Belmont neighborhood.

Parts of the bridge’s underside have been peeling and covered with plywood, prompting the need for the replacement

The bridge was originally built in 1961. City staff are recommending that the new bridge be built in the existing alignment in order to prevent the need to purchase additional right-of-way.   In 2003, the Belmont Bridge was determined by the City of Charlottesville to be “rapidly deteriorating” and a plan was put in place to replace it. According to the staff report, the elements of the bridge were beginning to crumble, and replacement was recommended rather than repair.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said the design needed to be of high quality because of the proximity to the Downtown Mall. He encouraged the bridge to improve pedestrian access to the Mall, and he called for bike lanes to be added.

Joe Schinstock, Project Manager for MMM Design, said there were “fairly strict” guidelines about how the bridge would have to be built to conform to Virginia Department of Transportation guidelines. He pledged that his firm’s design process would be open to the public.

“We learned some lessons [while creating] the construction documents for the Mall in terms of maintaining transparency and public involvement and we intend to apply those lessons here,” Schinstock said. “We also see some opportunities to soften the project as well with some landscape architecture on the approaches.”

Schinstock said he also saw an opportunity for a small pocket park to be constructed between the Charlottesville Pavilion and the bridge. He also pledged that Spudnuts would not be disturbed at any time during the replacement.