The bridge stands aside the popular Wayside restaurant.
The new JPA Bridge will eventually be both car and pedestrian-friendly, but not until 2012.
Photo courtesy Charlottesville City
The nearly 80-year-old bridge carrying Jefferson Park Avenue over the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks closed down Monday, April 4 for the first phase of the bridge's replacement. While walkers, who were out in force during the April 4 closure, can continue to use the Depression-era structure during the early phases of the project, vehicles have already been banned.
Ironically, the closest train tracks-crossing street has a mobility problem of its own. Shamrock Road, a Cherry Avenue feeder, is in the midst of a road-ripping utility project that has squeezed access to just one flagman-enabled lane, which could snarl traffic in the area even more than expected. Indeed, as a major entrance corridor to the University, particularly Scott Stadium, the loss of JPA Extended will be sorely felt, especially during football season.
"It was kind of unfortunate that they had to happen at the same time," says City spokesperson Ric Barrick, explaining that the one or two weeks of utility work would have created bottlenecks whenever it occurred along the course of the the year-and-half bridge replacement. "But we feel like we better rip the band-aid now."
The walkers are slated to get the benefit of a temporary bike-pedestrian bridge at the end of July, and then when the bridge is completed– by September 24, 2012– there will be dedicated bike lanes and a sidewalk on the 67-foot-wide replacement structure. Once the temporary pedestrian bridge is in place, the existing bridge will be removed.
In January, R. R. Dawson Bridge Co. of Lexington, Kentucky received the $5.8 million contract for construction of the new bridge which replaces one built prior to 1932 with an 8-ton weight limit. Unfortunately, the company's low bid was $1.2 million over the budgeted amount for the JPA bridge replacement, which forced City Council to dip into a $5.3 million fund reserved for another ailing bridge, the Belmont Bridge, which had previously been identified as the city's number one infrastructure project. City planning officials say the cost overrun is the result of last-minute requests from Norfolk Southern.
City officials have vowed to make the Belmont Bridge project a priority again once the JPA Bridge is replaced, but it could be years before the City receives the matching funds needed from VDOT for the project.
For years now, members of the Fry Spring's Neighborhood Association have been concerned about the bridge closure, particularly how long it will be closed. Folks on Todd Avenue, which runs parallel to the tracks aside the bridge, will be most severely affected, as the street will be closed when construction starts; and there will be tree felling in the area, but since construction crews plan to use locations around the bridge as a staging area, it could be real chaos for home and business owners on either side of the bridge.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, which will maintain a project website, notes that fire and emergency vehicles cannot use this structure and that transit services are limited to smaller equipment.
Left out of the official accounts is that this bridge was the site of the one of the more horrific accidents in local history when, in February 1987, a 19-year-old female UVA student died when she fell from bridge.
It turns out that the young woman and her boyfriend, fascinated by trains, had spent many an evening leaning over the side of the bridge, and were likely waiting for the Amtrak Crescent that roared in a short time after the girl's fall. Police later determined that Susan Bell had died from her fall and that the train simply thundered over her body. Her allegedly drunk boyfriend, however, dazed and frantic, suffered a life-changing head injury when he was struck by the Crescent as he attempted what he must have thought would be a rescue.