Council OKs replacement of Belmont Bridge, shoots down underpass

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The Belmont bridge from above. The Belmont bridge from above.

Charlottesville’s City Council voted 4-1 Monday night in favor of replacing the aging connector between downtown and Belmont with an “enhanced bridge” as opposed to an underpass—an option that would have routed traffic below existing rail lines, and enjoyed vocal support from some locals and designers who have criticized the city’s planning process on the project.

City Councilor Kathy Galvin was the lone “no” vote, supporting instead a plan to start from scratch on the bridge design.

The Council had four hotly debated options to choose from, ranging from a $15.7 million straight replacement of the crumbling 1960s-era bridge to the $27.4-plus underpass put forward by local architect Jim Rounsevell and design firm Siteworks, which was designed to be accompanied by a pedestrian bridge.

Councilors largely panned that latter option, and the one they selected fell in the middle, cost-wise: A $17.2 million replacement with a longer span that allowed for more space for cyclists and pedestrians. Left on the table was a slightly pricier option that included a steel arch.

State and federal grants of just over $12 million will cover a large part of the cost of the project, which isn’t slated to begin until 2018.

Rounsevell said his reaction to the vote was “severe disappointment,” largely at what he called an obstructionist response to the underpass design from the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department. He felt city planning staff should have done more to find alternative sources of funding, and that they failed to accurately represent the project to Council.

“It’s infuriating that there’s such a lack of transparency and cooperation coming out of NDS,” said Rounsevell. “At every single turn of process, they tried to sabotage this.”

He said he hopes the public will stay engaged on the project, but that he thinks many who strongly supported his design feel they’ve been ignored. “They’re disgusted with the process, and they’re disgusted with the results of the vote,” Rounsevell said. “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t want to be involved any more, because they feel they have no voice.”

 The original version of this story was expanded to include input from Rounsevell.