Locals have long discussed building another bridge between Pantops and Charlottesville over the Rivanna River.

With new activity on the banks of the river, such as the historic Woolen Mills redevelopment, and with the bridge prioritized in several plans for the area, the momentum for a river crossing may be picking up steam.

“I think the timing is really good for us,” said Dan Mahon, Albemarle County’s outdoor recreation planner. “With the synergy of all those activities in the area, it could be a good candidate for grants.”

Deciding on a location for a river crossing is one of the catalyst projects of the draft Pantops Master Plan, a vision for the area that county staff has been reviewing with the Pantops Community Advisory Committee since January 2018. The first version of the master plan was adopted in 2008.

The draft update of the Pantops Master Plan lists a bridge over the Rivanna River as its highest priority project. Credit: Credit: County of Albemarle Credit: Credit: County of Albemarle

River crossing ideas have been mentioned in many other plans, including the recently updated Jefferson Area Bike and Pedestrian Plan, the draft Rivanna River Area Plan, city and county transportation plans and the previous Pantops Master Plan.

The draft master plan does not decide whether the bridge would be intended for vehicles or exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists. The plan presents alternatives ranging from a new vehicular bridge from Pantops Shopping Center to adding lanes to U.S. 250 at Free Bridge to bicycle- and pedestrian-only bridges at various sites along the river.

For Cal Morris, a former planning commissioner and chairman of the Pantops CAC, a bridge for automobiles would be ideal.

“If you are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to be near 250 in Pantops during morning, afternoon or evening hours, you’re just going to see a huge flow of traffic,” Morris said. “For years now, it has been identified as a critical need to get another avenue across the Rivanna River from Pantops over into Charlottesville.”

Morris noted that many workers commute daily from Louisa and Fluvanna counties to work in the Charlottesville area.

Morris said that if an alternate route for vehicles is not possible, he would still love to see a bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians. He said that some Pantops residents who live as far north as the Key West subdivision are interested in biking into the city.

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Representatives from the city, county and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission talk regularly about bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and plan who is applying for which grants.

Chris Gensic, the parks and trails planner for Charlottesville, said that an analysis of the pros and cons of the pedestrian bridge locations seems likely to happen soon. Rounds of public input, design, grant applications and construction would follow if the localities decide to move forward with one or more bridge idea.

The city currently is not discussing a new vehicular bridge but has talked about adding lanes at Free Bridge, according to Charlottesville’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services.

Mahon said a vehicular bridge would be much more expensive than a bridge intended for walkers and cyclists. The Pantops Master Plan draft estimates that the river crossing could cost between $3 million and more than $12 million.

Mahon said that previous cost estimates for a river crossing between Darden Towe Park and the Meadowcreek Golf Course at Pen Park were high and that crossings near the historic Woolen Mills factory or under Interstate 64 could be more doable.

A pedestrian bridge also could help the river become more of a destination for locals and tourists to observe the waterway without worrying about cars going by, Mahon said.

“A bridge is a simple of way of bringing [in] people who can’t paddle a boat or don’t want to engage themselves in the water — they can observe a lot from the edge of a bridge,” he said.

The Albemarle Planning Commission is set to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday to hear comments from the public and to vote on whether to recommend the revised Pantops Master Plan. The plan then goes to the Board of Supervisors for final consideration


Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.