Construction on the new Belmont Bridge has hit a major milestone and is expected to be completed in about a year.
“We are roughly at the 50% mark,” Jeanette Janiczek, the project manager, told The Daily Progress.
A primary southern gateway to downtown Charlottesville, the bridge carries Avon Street-state Route 20 over the train tracks that were once part of the now-defunct Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and now hosts CSX and Buckingham Branch Railroad freight as well as passengers riding on Amtrak’s Cardinal Line.
The former bridge was constructed in 1962 and, at the time, had an anticipated lifespan of about 50 years. About 60 years later, the bridge is now nearly demolished, and one of the two main replacement spans is already carrying pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
“So we have roughly another year to build the other half of the bridge as well as the knuckle bridge, the enhanced pedestrian bridge,” said Janiczek. “We are building essentially three bridges.”
That so-called knuckle bridge will wrap around Ting Pavilion and provide a route for pedestrians along the west side of Ninth Street to the Downtown Mall and transit center.
It cures a major problem the previous bridge presented: There was no direct Mall connection when events were occurring at the pavilion.
“I don’t think people realize how many pedestrian connections we’re making,” said Janiczek.
She noted that a new stairway to Water Street has already been poured and that a new second tunnel to be located near the bridge’s southern edge will give pedestrians an east-west path, connecting such popular destinations as Champion Brewing Company and Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria.
“People will probably be surprised about that southern tunnel,” Janiczek said.
One longtime vexation for people navigating that first stoplight on the Belmont side of the bridge was the presence of five roadways meeting there. However, Janiczek said that Old Avon Street – “the weird leg” – has seen the last of its automobile traffic and will eventually gain plantings and water detention systems as a landscaped pedestrian pathway.
“We tried to green it up,” said Janiczek.
Unlike the old bridge, the new bridge will have just one dedicated travel lane in each direction. If that sounds like a recipe for gridlock, Janiczek said, the bridge will be gaining longer turn lanes onto the cross streets, Market and Graves, engineered to reduce backups.
Much of the width will be dedicated to 10-foot-wide sidewalks, 7-foot-wide bike lanes and 3-foot-wide buffers to keep pedestrians and cyclists safely removed from vehicular traffic. A mountable barrier will let emergency vehicles override the bike lines and buffers when needed, Janiczek said.
One wrinkle drivers may soon encounter in the next few weeks is that Water Street will be temporarily slimmed to just one lane, becoming westbound only, to accommodate the micropiles for the knuckle bridge, the new pedestrian span. Micropiles are a type of foundation, usually made from steel or concrete, that are added by drilling small holes into dirt. They add stability to a structure.
With its price tag now standing at $38.1 million, the project has consumed much of the city’s annual federal and state transportation allocations, plus more than $13 million in local taxpayer funds, over the past several years. Asked whether the recent announcement that the city would soon start getting some bridges built under a so-called “design-build” bidding process, Janiczek was adamant that design had to take precedence on this vital gateway.
“It’s not just replacing a bridge,” said Janiczek. “It’s trying to create a lot of connections for bikes and pedestrians.”