Charlottesville’s City Council has decided to proceed with its plans to build a new Belmont Bridge.
The decision winds down a 15-year process to replace the bridge, which connects Charlottesville’s Belmont neighborhood to the Downtown Mall.
“That was a campaign issue the first time I ran [in 2007],” Councilor Kathy Galvin said at the Monday meeting.
Councilors ruled unanimously that the city had collected sufficient citizen feedback to send designs to Charlottesville’s Board of Architectural Review. Construction likely will begin in 2020 and end by 2022.
The deterioration of the steel and concrete components of the bridge, which was built in 1961, first attracted the attention of city officials in 2003. After analyzing rehabilitation options, the city decided to replace the whole structure.
However, the replacement encountered several hurdles, including public opposition to the initial designs. In 2014, the consultants in charge of the process, MMM Design, went out of business.
In February 2017, a new company, Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., began working on the design and held community meetings and conducted surveys throughout 2017.
“This last round was a great process to be part of, so thank you and your team for all the hard work,” said Councilor Heather Hill to Jeanette Janiczek, who has managed the project for the city and discussed the community engagement process on Monday.
Last fall, City Council approved a conceptual design for the new bridge. The design includes a 7-foot-wide bicycle lane and a 10-foot-wide sidewalk. The bike lane and sidewalk will be separated from cars by a median for most of the redesigned area.
After extensive advertising, including a banner on the bridge itself, the city held a public meeting about the design on May 24 that attracted 61 attendees. Many of the 36 comments that were submitted focused on traffic and pedestrian safety.
The project team estimated that 14,000 vehicles currently pass between Monticello Avenue and East Market Street. The traffic in the year 2041 will be 14,700 vehicles, according to the team’s projections.
“By focusing on the design length of the turn lanes, as well as signal timing, we should be able to maintain the level of service that we experience now,” Janiczek told City Council on Monday. “There will be no big changes.”
The design also adds several public, off-street parking spaces near Old Avon Street.
Other attendees at May’s meeting worried whether a tunnel designed to allow walkers to cross between South Street and Belmont would be safe.
“I do not want to walk in a tunnel at night, and I often go out at night and walk home,” Belmont-Carlton resident Joan Schatzman told the project team at the May meeting.
According to Janiczek, those concerns are addressed by the size of the tunnel, planned lighting and other nearby crossings available to pedestrians.
“I certainly understand that you wouldn’t want to go maybe in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the day, with a lunch crowd, maybe you’ll feel more comfortable,” Janiczek said Monday. “If you don’t feel comfortable with the tunnel, there are other options that we have provided you.”
The project team is also in conversation with the Buckingham Branch Railroad about removing security fencing on the bridge, which the railroad requires.
Feedback from the May meeting prompted several alterations to the conceptual plan, including a bicycle ramp in one location and an additional sidewalk in another. The team also recommended reopening the South Street entrance to Champion Brewing Company, per the request of the property owner, Avon Court LC.
The city already has allocated funding to the project. The total budget is $24,787,399, with $5,983,258 in local funding.