A key goal of the 2008 Pantops Master Plan was to find ways to make it safer to travel without using a vehicle, but some Albemarle County residents are not satisfied that enough has been done to support the rapidly developing growth area.
“We need a pedestrian bridge to join both sides of Richmond Road as a first step in integrating us into a cohesive walkable community,” said Diane Berlin, a member of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee.
“The great divide [of U.S. 250] would finally be breached and Pantops would be one step closer to the walkable community it is supposed to be,” she told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month.
Berlin’s request came during the early stages of the county’s budget review process.
Between now and January, Albemarle County planning staff will further refine a request to include a pedestrian bridge in the capital improvement program, a budget that allows for infrastructure to be planned for and invested in over multiple years.
Berlin said Albemarle should begin its search by investigating a bridge that carries pedestrians across Wards Road in Lynchburg between Liberty University and shopping centers.
The $1.5 million bridge opened in 2011, two years after the Lynchburg City Council adopted a concept.
“It includes an elevator and stairs on one side and stairs and exit ramps on the other,” Berlin said. “It could easily accommodate hundreds of pedestrians — parents with carriages, dogs, walkers, runners, bikers, wheelchairs and scooters.”
However, cities in Virginia have more authority to construct improvements, whereas counties generally do not have public works departments. The Wards Road bridge, for instance, was built with no involvement or funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Pedestrian bridges on Pantops or along U.S. 29 would almost certainly need funding from VDOT.
A possible option would be to use VDOT’s revenue-sharing program, which allows for localities to receive up to $10 million for transportation projects provided a local match is made.
Albemarle recently used the program for several sidewalk projects.
But according to David Benish, Albemarle’s chief of planning, VDOT has discouraged the county from applying for any more revenue-sharing money until the sidewalks are completed.
“There have been cost over-runs on those projects and it has made it difficult to complete the funding,” Benish said.
To prepare for an application next year, Benish said the county could undertake a study to evaluate specific locations and develop a more accurate budget.
The Board of Supervisors, with two new members, is expected to vote in January on whether to proceed with a study.
Outgoing supervisor Jane Dittmar cautioned her colleagues about the many competing infrastructure needs in Albemarle. She suggested the county try to raise funds through people who would directly benefit from a Pantops bridge.
“Maybe the shopping centers managers and owners, some of the stores, the Montessori school should be all part of that discussion,” Dittmar said.
“Citizens do have a lot of power and influence to do this and it takes a lot of effort to work together, but it’s certainly a worthy thing to work on,” Mallek said.
Across the nation, similar bridges are built and funded using a variety of approaches.
For instance, the Metropolitan Council of St. Paul, Minnesota, recently approved a $9.65 million bridge that will connect Vikings Stadium to light rail across a busy highway. The NFL team is paying up to $6 million for the bridge, with $4 million coming from the council. The Vikings will be repaid in kind through advertising at a new rail station.
Earlier this month, officials in Ypsilanti, Michigan, opened a 185-foot-long bridge that crosses the Huron River. The city contributed about $285,000 to the project, which cost about $1 million, with the rest coming from grants from entities such as the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and contributions from other local governments.
Officials in Evansville, Indiana, dedicated a pedestrian bridge connecting a state hospital complex with a future park. The project cost about $2.2 million, with 80 percent of funding coming from the federal government and the rest from local sources. Construction took 32 weeks.
Jamestown, New York, broke ground last month on a $2 million project for two pedestrian bridges over the Chadakoin River. Eighty percent of the project was paid for by a transportation alternative grant from the New York Department of Transportation, with the city paying the rest.