Council OKs replacement of Belmont Bridge, shoots down underpass

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. 

  • PG Tipps

    Thanks to all four councilors who had the fiscal sense to move ahead with a basic replacement of a concept that works just fine. I’m surprised and disappointed with Kathy Galvin’s time and money management agenda.

  • Luke J

    It is not NDS’s job to come up with funding for all of your expensive ideas. The underpass was nice, but it wasn’t extra-10-million nice and that’s all there is to it.

    City councilors gave it much more airtime and thought than they might have otherwise, thanks to the hard work put in by the underpass’s advocate. But in the end, it’s just not worth it and that was clear enough that no councilor expressed support for it. Ten million dollars is a lot of money and I’m happy to drive (or walk or bike) on a bridge rather than an underpass if that money can be spent better elsewhere.

  • Wanago Bob

    I can only be grateful that the City Council finally came to their senses and approved a reasonable option. Even they seem to become embarrassed as the cost of the flight of fancy that would have given Belmont a $30 million edifice that would have enhanced the corridors looks but wouldn’t have help move people and traffic any better than the much cheaper options.That they might consider something that cost twice as much delayed the decision for far too long. This underpass sideshow masked the real bit of gross negligence that the press should really have looked into. HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST TO FIX??

    The city came back with “the dog ate our repair estimate” excuse. They STILL can’t find any work product that showed that the bridge they said was too costly to fix was actually that. It seems that this less then honest assessment of simple repair is emblematic of how council continues to waste time and taxpayer dollars by not getting timely information.

    • Bruno Hob

      Right. And just wait til council pays $15 mil for Brown’s parking lot. The Underpass ideas was silly because underpasses are not only more expensive to begin with but, because of seismic and drainage issues,much more expensive to maintain. It should have been a no-starter to begin with.

  • EbynnKnott

    It was a VERY VOCAL minority that supported the underpass. I am happy to see the city is going ahead with a practical and functional bridge.

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