On September 2, 2008 City Council officials, representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation, and members of the community gathered in City Hall to finalize proposals for refurbishing the Jefferson Park Avenue bridge. Speakers discussed multiple aspects of the project, including the incorporation of a small parking lot, but most importantly came to the conclusion of a final bridge width of 67 ft, seven feet wider than desired by one local neighborhood association.
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Peter Hedlund, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association, and a resident of Todd Avenue, commended both VDOT and Council for keeping the neighborhood involved in the planning process, but reiterated the neighborhood’s wish to keep the bridge 60 feet or less in width. Hedlund suggested the removal of a small parking area to the west end of the bridge would shrink its width by around 10 feet. He said the neighborhood wanted the bridge to be, “replaced as quickly as possible.” “We just hope that the main factor driving its design is safety,” Hedlund added.
However, VDOT representative Brent Sprinkle said the bridge needed to be a minimum of 67 feet wide to accommodate two sidewalks, two bike lanes, traffic lanes, and areas of transition. Some members of the community said they thought VDOT’s design was ‘sloppy’ and wasted space, but Sprinkle reassured City Council members that the excess space was necessary to ensure bicycle safety and traffic safety when making the transition off of the bridge. Removing the parking area, Sprinkle said, would take away too much space in the area of transition to be safe for bicycle and car traffic.
“We need to maintain proper spacing on these things,” Sprinkle said, to avoid raising other safety concerns.
The Jefferson Park Avenue bridge has been in need of repair since the 1980s according to VDOT Program Manager Jeanette Janiczek. According to a federal scale that measures bridge safety, the structure is rated 2 out of a possible 100 points. Even with a low rating the bridge can still hold its posted limit of eight tons and is safe to use, according to Janiczek.
“We are monitoring it,” Janiczek said. “It is safe to drive over given the speed limit.”
Since a score of 50 usually earns this kind of a project federal funding, VDOT included the bridge on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program beginning in the 90s, but adjoining neighborhoods opposed VDOT’s original proposal, which suggested a bridge of 80 feet in width. Members of both the JPA and Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Associations grew concerned that a new, wide bridge would encourage cut-through traffic from the County’s southern development area. Their input caused VDOT and City transportation planners to revisit their construction plans.
City Council members concluded that although the bridge was wider than the neighborhood’s original request, VDOT’s effort to listen to the communities and make feasible changes showed a great improvement in the plans. Most were comfortable with the proposal, and all voted in favor of VDOT’s plan to create a 67 foot bridge which will be advertised for construction bids in November 2009.
Mayor Dave Norris gave his consent to the design as well. “This is better than what we saw originally,” Norris said. “When I look at the design that is before us tonight and the one the neighborhood put before us as their preferred design, I don’t see how this design creates any more infrastructure than the one that the VDOT people suggested.”
Janiczek said this is the best proposal given the funding and time constraints as long as no substantial design features are changed. VDOT said they will use the West Main Street Bridge as a design example for its railings, light fixtures and the character of the bridge. Sprinkle said the looks will match as closely as possible, given the West Main Street bridge has wider sidewalks. While Janiczek said she hoped to keep the bridge open for as long as possible, she suggested the construction of a temporary bridge for pedestrians and bicycles be built by January 2010.