Up and over: Why some are begging for a bridge

A bridge similar to the one Diane Berlin proposes at Rolkin Road already exists on Emmet Street. The difference? Rolkin’s will be longer, with the potential to be cheaper, and will feature an elevator on one side and ramps on the other. Photo by Martyn Kyle A bridge similar to the one Diane Berlin proposes at Rolkin Road already exists on Emmet Street. The difference? Rolkin’s will be longer, with the potential to be cheaper, and will feature an elevator on one side and ramps on the other. Photo by Martyn Kyle

Route 250, deemed a traffic nightmare by drivers of the 32,000 cars that travel it daily, virtually splits residential neighborhoods on one side and businesses on the other. Some think the next step for Albemarle should be building a walkway across the busy highway—because most pedestrians fear crossing the street on foot, but would prefer not driving their cars one-tenth of a mile to get to the grocery store.

“It’s insanely dangerous. My colleagues and I will sometimes try to walk across the street to get a coffee or lunch and it’s like running a gauntlet,” says Debby Norton, a Mountaintop Montessori teacher. “I mean, really dangerous. Like an agility test, but losing means death.”

Diane Berlin, a Pantops Community Advisory Committee member, tells a similar story.

“You can’t cross it,” says Berlin. “You take your life into your own hands.” Calling the road “treacherous,” she says building a pedestrian bridge would reduce traffic by allowing people who live on one side to access the other’s retail and restaurant opportunities without ever getting behind the wheel. Norton sees this as a way to reduce carbon emissions, too.

Berlin learned from Ken Boyd, the Rivanna District supervisor, that there may already be funds for this type of project—but only if she acts quickly. Projects hoping to get money from the county’s capital improvement plan are being presented to the Board of Supervisors on November 11.

Rather than a crosswalk, Boyd advises a type of grade-separated interchange like a bridge because the Virginia Department of Transportation would ultimately prefer to keep traffic moving. VDOT could match funds raised for a project like this, he says, making it an attractive one for the board to consider.

Before she started heavily advocating for the addition, Berlin scheduled a tour of a similar bridge across Wards Road in Lynchburg.

“It was beautiful and minimal,” she says, adding that the bridge took up very little land on both sides and its 110 feet stretched across four traffic lanes and a median, much like the structure of Rolkin Road where she’s proposing the bridge in Albemarle. Also, the Lynchburg bridge features stairs and an elevator on one side and stairs and exit ramps on the other, making it handicap accessible and also suitable for pet-walkers. According to Berlin, the bridge was built from inception to completion in only six months with Wards Road only being closed for one night. She thinks this bridge makes a perfect model.

At the Board of Supervisors’ meeting where Berlin will formally propose the bridge, other people and organizations will pitch a number of projects to the board. Berlin’s proposal, though, follows the Pantops Master Plan, which was adopted in March 2008.

“Make the neighborhood center a major pedestrian destination with sidewalk improvements, including a pedestrian crossing at Rolkin Road with sidewalks leading from adjacent residential areas into the center,” reads the plan. And while a similar, but shorter, pedestrian crossing bridge at UVA cost about $3.6 million, Berlin says the model bridge in Lynchburg was only about $1.8 million.

With positive feedback from Boyd and the Planning Commission, Berlin will present the project to the Board of Supervisors on November 11 at 5:30pm at the Albemarle County Office Building. She urges other Pantoppers who support the project to attend.