Five years after the planning process to replace the Belmont Bridge began, the city of Charlottesville has hit the reset button by soliciting a new set of design proposals.
A request for proposals for the “urban design plan” recently was published on the city’s procurement website. It calls for a firm to design the bridge and hold at least 20 meetings with the public.
“We need to replace that bridge, and time is of the essence,” said Alexander Ikefuna, director of the city’s Neighborhood Development Services department.
The existing bridge, built in 1961, has a 40.8 out of 100 sufficiency rating, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. In 2012, that figure was 47.6, meaning the bridge has further deteriorated.
A black fence erected in April 2011 blocks pedestrians from using the eastern sidewalk because of unsafe conditions.
The firm MMM Design was hired in 2009 to design a replacement for the bridge after it was determined that repairing it would not be cost-effective. A public kickoff meeting was held in November 2010.
“One bridge design reached the 35 percent [completion point] before strong community participation implored exploration of other alternative designs and concepts,” reads a section of the request for proposals that traces the history of the MMM period.
Some community members pressed the City Council to build an underpass instead, but the council decided in July 2014 to proceed with one of the MMM designs. However, that company has since gone out of business.
The scope of the project is not just the bridge. Firms also will be asked to consider the sidewalks that approach the bridge and one that carries pedestrians underneath on Water Street.
“It needs to be a good bridge within the city,” Ikefuna said. “It needs to embody the elements of good urban design. The bridge needs to be incorporated to make it a multimodal transportation facility that will improve access for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.”
The selected firm will have 15 months to complete the design phase. The design must comply with federal and state guidelines.
“Each design option must create a framework of public space and street character with contributing frontages, development parcels and destinations while protecting the interests of the surrounding existing businesses and neighborhoods,” reads the request.
The request for proposals was put together with input from a steering committee. Members include representatives from four neighborhoods, a business representative, a member of the transit advisory committee, a planning commissioner and three members of the PLACE Design Task Force.
“I believe that urban planning and design is crucial to the success of the new bridge,” said Mark Watson, chairman of the PLACE Design Task Force.
“My hope is that the new Belmont Bridge will be an important urban design element in the city of Charlottesville, and that it will provide a beautiful and sensitive centerpiece around which the existing neighborhoods and development community can rally their collective support,” Watson said.
The request seeks plans for a two-lane bridge with a 25-mph speed limit. There “should be an enjoyable pedestrian experience” and mountain views should be preserved. The bridge span must be shorter than the existing 440-foot-long structure. Bike lanes and sidewalks must be 10 feet wide.
Whichever firm is chosen will have to demonstrate that its staff has read through the city’s many plans, including the Strategic Investment Area and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
They will need to introduce themselves at a public meeting, followed by a design charrette. In all, the city will require as many 20 public meetings during the design process.
VDOT’s six-year improvement program currently shows nearly $14.5 million allocated to the project.
“The project is currently fully funded based on the city’s latest estimate,” said Stacey Londrey, a spokeswoman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
If the cost estimate increases, the city’s request for additional funding from VDOT will be subject to the new HB 2 priority process, which may add further scrutiny to the cost and design. The city also could apply for VDOT’s revenue-sharing program.
Firms have until Jan. 22 to submit bids. The selected firm will have 15 months to come up with a plan after receiving a notice to proceed.