Decision point looming for Rivanna Bike and Pedestrian Bridge

At any given point there are dozens of candidates for transportation projects in the community. In recent years, Charlottesville has been successful in seeking funding for streetscape projects to add bike lanes, sidewalks, and other urban amenities. 

The next deadline for Smart Scale funding process through the Virginia Department of Transportation is coming up later this year and one of the projects under consideration is a bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists that would cross the Rivanna River. (most recent presentation)

Dick Ruffin is a member of the Pantops Community Advisory Committee and serves on a stakeholder committee that is overseeing planning efforts for the Rivanna bridge. 

“It’s good for Albemarle County, it’s good for the city, and most especially I think it’s good for connectivity,” Ruffin said.

Ruffin said the project would put a focus on the Rivanna River and will build off of a technical document created by the firm VHB in July 2020. 

“We’ve tried to sort of the pros and cons of the different alignments of the bridge and we are supposed to provide some guidance to the Charlottesville-Albemarle planning office,” Ruffin said. 

That office is technically the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, which is overseeing the planning and will make the Smart Scale submission to VDOT. 

“It does have to be [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessible,” Ruffin said. “We want connectivity to the trails on both sides of the river. There are utility impacts, floodplain considerations, right of way impacts. We’re quite focused also on the aesthetics. We want it to look nice and really be attractive. Of course, cost is a primary thing.” 

Ruffin said the group has not yet made a recommendation on which alignment would be made, but that will come in the near future. They are down to two alternatives.

“Technical considerations have ruled out a number of options so when we say there are two left that’s after a lot of work,” Ruffin said. 

Both options would have an approach on the Albemarle side at the property formerly used by State Farm as their regional headquarters. The exact location for each depends on where it would land on the other side of the river. 

“One is quite near Riverview Park and would actually land on Chesapeake, the road you come down to get into the park,” Ruffin said. “The other would land at the Wool Factory just outside the tunnel that goes under the railway at the bottom of East Market Street.” 

The Chesapeake Street option has a preliminary cost estimate of $11. 3million. The Wool Factory option is more expensive with a $4 million differential. Ruffin said parking considerations are also a factor at both locations.

“I think the Riverview Park folk who live near there are quite worried that the park will become so busy and so  many people coming down that it will be destructive of their neighborhood,” Ruffin said. “So one consideration that we on the Pantops side should have in mind is that the State Farm takeoff point on Pantops has got a lot of space.”

The presentation for the January 20 stakeholder meeting includes these two renderings of what the projects could look like. (download the presentation)

Ruffin said the project could score well on economic development, one of several criteria looked at in the Smart Scale process. The preliminary deadline is March 31 with a final one later in the year. A survey will be posted in the near future to get public opinion. 

Sandy Shackleford, the planning director for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District, said the Policy Board of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization will need to select an alignment in March, which is their next regularly scheduled meeting. 

Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek took part in a recent site visit of the area.

“The walkabout in the Woolen Mills was very informative because its really important to see at ground level,” Mallek said. 

Mallek said several ideas came up during the site visit, including ways to control traffic on East Market Street and how to alter the Riverview Park alignment to address a grade differential between the two sides. 

“I just want to make sure that that idea doesn’t get lost along the way,” Mallek said. 

Mallek suggested the MPO should have a meeting in February in order to be able to make an informed decision about the alignment. MPO Chair Ned Gallaway agreed.

“There’s different options and a lot of people’s eyes on it that we want to make sure we’re as informed as we can be going into the meeting that we plan to make the vote on,” Gallaway said. 

For more information, visit the TJPDC’s Smart Scale page to learn about the bridge as well as other potential submissions. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the February 2, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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