Nine Options Considered to Ease Free Bridge Traffic

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

July 16, 2014

A group of community leaders are coming together to try to fix traffic congestion at the Free Bridge intersection, where Route 250 crosses over the Rivanna River and enters Charlottesville city limits.

The group consists of business leaders from Pantops, Albemarle County planners, and Charlottesville city leaders. They are considering nine different options to ease the flow of traffic through the bridge.

Terry Vassalos, who owns Tip Top Restaurant on Pantops, says the backups affect his business.

"Customers say all the time, 'Look at the traffic. Look how bad the traffic is!'" Vassalos said.

Tip Top is about 0.7 miles east of Free Bridge, but Vassalos says "every day" the traffic backs up from the bridge all the way to his restaurant. The worst times are in the late morning.

"Everything comes down to Free Bridge, through that little tiny funnel," said Cal Morris, the chairman of the Albemarle County Planning Commission. "Something has to be done. It really has to be done because it's getting worse and worse."

Morris and a handful of other leaders gave their preferences on all nine of the options.

"There are some definite possibilities here," Morris said. "Some of them are kind of way out!"

One option that was largely put aside was a $70 million dollar plan to put a new road connecting Route 20 to Rio Road, in the hopes of drawing some traffic off Route 250. However, the new road would be costly and would run alongside Pen Park. The group deemed that option very unlikely.

Other options that gained some support include adding another bridge over the Rivanna River, just south of Free Bridge, or widening Route 250 around the intersection. However, both of those options cost more than $20 million.

The most expensive option would be adding flyover lanes that would allow two lanes of traffic to go over the intersection entirely. That option would cost an estimated $141 million.

"Look at the price on those options," Morris said. "Wow!"

Planners are hopeful that they would get state or federal funding to help pay for these projects.

"If and when the goose starts laying the golden eggs again," Morris said, "we get one or two of them. Maybe three."

If that money comes, Vassalos says he would favor the second bridge idea.

The group plans to give its final report by the end of October.

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