“My husband and I bought our townhome in 2010 because we liked the walkability of the neighborhood,” said Latha Masters, a resident of the Pavilions at Pantops.
“After moving in, however, we discovered that there is no pedestrian crossing at that intersection [and] we have never felt safe walking across,” she told county supervisors at a recent meeting of the board.
Masters and her husband organized a petition calling on the county to install a crosswalk or build a pedestrian bridge at the intersection of U.S. 250 and Rolkin Road, just up the hill from her neighborhood.
More than 140 people have signed the online petition, which has not yet been presented to the county.
Pantops is one of several designated growth areas in Albemarle. Since 1980, the county’s policy has been to encourage dense residential development in these areas in order to preserve the rural countryside. Each of the growth areas has a master plan that lays out what county officials think is needed to make the areas attractive to urban residents.
However, the Pantops Master Plan recognizes that the network for pedestrians is insufficient.
“There are deficiencies in Pantops with subdivisions built with rural cross-section roads, lack of crosswalks or a completed sidewalk system to allow walking, and no bike lanes,” reads the plan, which was adopted in 2008.
The Virginia Department of Transportation estimated in 2013 that about 31,000 vehicles used this section of U.S. 250 each day.
Carter Johnson, spokeswoman for the Albemarle County Police Department, said two pedestrians have been killed on the road since 2010.
“Right from the beginning, we saw that we had a problem with U.S. 250 and the availability of ways for people to get across the road,” said Cal Morris, who has represented the Pantops area on the county Planning Commission for more than 10 years.
Morris said the county has installed sidewalks on the northern side of U.S. 250 since the plan was adopted, but agrees more needs to be done.
“Those young folks are the ones [who have] come from the city, found a beautiful place to live, and now they find that they can’t live as if they are in a city,” Morris said. “[But] that’s precisely why we have the development areas. So people can live, work and shop without getting into a car, but there is no way someone is going to walk across 250 with children and get over to the south side where there is shopping.”
Members of the Pantops Community Advisory Council agree. The group was created to oversee implementation of the master plan.
“The lack of safe pedestrian crossings on U.S. 250 itself has created a great divide between these two sectors of the Pantops neighborhood,” council members wrote in a statement. “We will never truly foster the development of a Pantops community unless we are able to link the two sides of Route 250.”
The Places29 Master Plan, which was adopted in 2011, lists several locations for potential pedestrian bridges along the U.S. 29 corridor. The Pantops plan does not specify any locations for a bridge, but does call for crosswalks at several points.
There are currently no active plans or concepts for pedestrian bridges along U.S.29 or crosswalks on U.S. 250 on Pantops.
If the public and elected officials did decide to pursue a pedestrian bridge at Pantops, the cost would depend on what purpose the structure would serve.
“The price can vary widely,” said Jason Johnstone, marketing manager for Big R Bridge, a Colorado-based company that specializes in pre-fabricated structures.
“You can have an economical bridge or have one that’s jazzed up,” Johnstone said. “A lot of it is a function of what the city is trying to do. Do you want a signature bridge or a utilitarian bridge?”
In 2005, the University of Virginia built a $3.5 million pedestrian bridge to connect Central Grounds with various athletic facilities, including the John Paul Jones Arena.
Pedestrian bridge across Wards Road in Lynchburg
In 2011, Liberty University and the city of Lynchburg opened a $1.5 million pedestrian bridge that spans more than 100 feet over Wards Road, a commercial area similar to both U.S. 29 and U.S. 250 at Pantops.
That bridge was built in part to give a safe passage for the more than 700 Liberty students who were believed to cross the road every day.
Johnstone said his company comes in when a civil engineering firm has developed a blueprint for the bridge, which also would include any staircases necessary to get people to the bridge’s deck.
The Wards Road bridge, for instance, features elevators on one side to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Morris has urged the Pantops council to advocate for a bridge or crossing. Otherwise, he said, such projects will never happen.
“There are citizens that are living in areas that we have designated as development areas,” Morris said. “They’ve done their part, and now we need to step up to the plate.”
Morris said he understands there are state and federal grants for transportation infrastructure, but the local community needs to pay its share, as well. He suggested the county should look into a bond referendum to finance pedestrian improvements in all of the development areas.
“We’ve got to stop thinking about getting 100 percent handouts and step up to the plate and start funding these,” Morris said. “Otherwise, let’s stop talking about the development areas.”