Push for Underpass and Pedestrian Walkway in Belmont Bridge Replacement

March 11, 2014

Charlottesville architect Jim Rounsevell is on a mission to get the public to understand his vision for the future of the area surrounding the Belmont Bridge.

"People have a hard time wrapping their head around this, and as a designer, I can see this. But for most people, it's really hard to figure out," he said. "People think it's a tunnel, and it's not."

Just because his idea is complex, Rounsevell says residents and city council members shouldn't rule it out.

As one of a handful of proposals to replace the decaying bridge built in the 1960s, Rounsevell's design concept includes an underpass below the railroad tracks as well as a separate pedestrian bridge linking to the downtown mall.

For the last few years, city council has been considering two very different options for the site -- an underpass, like Rounsevell's pitch, or a replacement bridge.

Rounsevell says replacing the bridge with another bridge doesn't take into consideration the drastic changes to the area in the last few decades. He says the focus should be taken off tire traffic and put on foot traffic.

"The [current bridge] was originally intended to connect I-64, which was newly built to the south, to downtown, but when we gave over the downtown mall to the pedestrians, it was game over," he said. "In the end what we're really looking at with this design proposal is replacing a highway bridge with a pedestrian bridge. So if you want something that represents your city and the stated goals of council, what better way?"

A replacement bridge is currently slated around $15 million. Rounsevell's underpass is an estimated $25 million and the pedestrian span would be another $4 million. Despite the higher cost, he says it would be better for the city in the longrun.

The plan would connect people to surrounding areas not easily accessed by a traditional bridge. He says that increases the opportunity for economic development nearby.

Studying that exact impact is one goal of a new Kickstarter campaign, launched on Tuesday. Rounsevell is hoping to raise $7,800 to complete an economic analysis weighing the benefits of a bridge to the benefits of an underpass. The money would also be put toward creating more visuals to help the public better envision the plan.

Rounsevell says he thinks city officials are strongly in favor of a replacement bridge, but he wants them to take a closer look at the underpass and pedestrian bridge as a viable option.

"All I'm asking is that we have a fair, transparent and open process to assess the options that are on the table and that we not be railroaded into a decision or that we fall prey to just looking to the short term. We need to think long term about this."

To view the Kickstarter campaign, click HERE.

For more renderings of the design proposal, click HERE.

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