While a long-awaited bicycle and pedestrian crossing of the Rivanna River is closer than ever to fruition, community members will have to wait longer for connections to that crossing to be built.
Directed by staff with Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the Virginia Department of Transportation recently completed a feasibility study for a possible pedestrian bridge over the river in the area of Riverview Park, which identified two potential crossings of the river.
On Thursday night, around 50 people attended a virtual workshop to give feedback on both possibilities.
Over the years, multiple planning documents, including Albemarle’s Pantops Master Plan, Charlottesville’s Bike/Ped Master Plan, and the Rivanna River Area Plan, have called for a pedestrian and bike crossing of the Rivanna River in the vicinity of Riverview Park. Currently, the project is just a proposal and funding has yet to be sought or secured.
“There’s a lot of different possibilities for funding a project like this, and we’re always looking into what might be the best option for this particular project, if it’s something that we want to move forward with, that everyone wants to move forward,” said Jessica Hersh-Ballering, a transportation planner with TJPDC.
One alignment connects Charlottesville near the intersection of Chesapeake Street and Riverside Avenue by a 325-foot long single-truss bridge to land in Albemarle County, then continues up the slope as a shared use path to the intersection of Pantops Drive and State Farm Boulevard.
Hersh-Ballering said that the first possible span would have a clearance of 40 feet over normal river height and 15 feet over the floodplain, and the entire bridge and path would maintain a grade of 5% or less.
The first bridge is estimated to cost $11.3 million, including obtaining the right-of-way.
The second alignment connects the east end of East Market Street in Albemarle with a two piece arch bridge to land in Albemarle and then continues up the slope as a shared use path to the intersection of Pantops Drive and State Farm Boulevard.
The second possible alignment has two spans that would be 296 feet long each. The first span would have a clearance of 5 feet over normal river height, and only one foot over the floodplain. The bridge and the path would mostly maintain a grade of 5% or less, but 150 feet of the path would have a grade of 6.5%.
The second bridge is estimated to cost $15.36 million, including obtaining the right-of-way.
“The consultants expected that option one would be the easier of the two options to construct, simply because of the absence of in-river construction, but I will caveat that by saying that’s an expectation that they have, that’s a guess that they have, it’s not for certain,” Hersh-Ballering said. “A lot of other components that haven’t been investigated yet to determine which one would actually be easiest.”
On the east side of the project, with either possible bridge, consultants recommended a trailhead be built at the intersection of Peter Jefferson Parkway, State Farm Boulevard and Pantops Drive.
“There would be parking and there would be some sort of shade structure and other trailhead-like amenities at that area, including signage,” Hersh-Ballering said.
During the work session, many community members were concerned about parking at both ends of the bridge.
“Parking is included in the design, although exactly where and how much has not yet been determined,” Hersh-Ballering said.
Sara Dexter, who lives on Chesapeake Street near the entrance to Riverview Park, said the river has gotten increasingly more popular over the last few years.
“I think there will continue to be traffic and the parking issue just can’t be ignored or underestimated,” she said.
Tim Padalino, Albemarle’s chief of parks planning, said vehicular access is important but it’s something that “we’ve been trying to work on above and beyond this particular bridge feasibility study.”
“It should be a component of the bridge if it does move forward, but as others have commented, the value in the bridge is also about recreation and commuter connectivity, and so we wouldn’t want to think of vehicular access being the primary or predominant way that the bridge is necessarily going to be accessed,” he said.
Hersh-Ballering said the next step would be to review feedback from this meeting and online comments, and share that feedback with city and county staff and elected officials.