Sep 21, 2010

Keep Talking

by Jonathan Parker

Lynchburg and Liberty University leaders will meet in the coming weeks to iron out a proposal for placing a pedestrian bridge over Wards Road.

“My goal at this point is to present a plan to city council to build a bridge,” City Manager Kimball Payne said Thursday.

Lynchburg City Council discussed the proposed bridge, which would be placed 18 to 20 feet above Wards Road, Tuesday night. Council members did not approve the project, but agreed to discuss the bridge further.

In September 2009, council members unanimously agreed to build a street-level pedestrian crossing on Wards Road. The project, designed to make crossing Wards Road safer, included placing crossing signals and marked crosswalks on the highway and a fenced-in pedestrian refuge in the median.

Council members set aside over $2 million for the project, which includes placing walking trails on Rock Castle Creek along Wards Road. 


This summer, Liberty leaders asked city officials, who have already spent $80,000 to design the street-level crossing, to consider placing a bridge above Wards Road. 

Pedestrians would access the bridge by elevator or stairs on the east side of Wards Road and exit likely by stairs or a ramp in the Sam’s Club parking lot, according to City Manager Tom Martin.

“It would definitely enhance pedestrian safety. There’s no doubt about it,” Martin told council members Tuesday.

Councilman Michael Gillette questioned changing the plan since Liberty officials were in favor of the street-level crossing
in September.

“My question is what has changed?” Gillette asked. “You thought it was a good plan when you didn’t think we were going to fund it, but now it’s a bad plan because we said we are going to fund it.”

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., who believes the bridge is safer, told council members the university did not realize the city’s financial commitment to the project.

“We had no idea the city would spend that much to build a crosswalk that would stop traffic and put our kids in the road,” Falwell said. “The only protection there is a red light and hoping the cars will stop.”

Councilman Turner Perrow Jr. expressed concerns for pedestrian safety. “I’m seeing students crossing the street and I’m worried one is going to get killed,” Perrow said.

Martin told the city council that building the bridge increases the project’s cost from just over $1 million to $2.6 million.

Falwell believes the cost is closer to $1.8 million.

On Thursday, Payne said city and Liberty officials will prepare a “clear proposal” for a pedestrian bridge.

“We didn’t go to (city council) with a clear proposal,” Payne said, adding that council members want to know what it’s going to cost.

Payne said city and university leaders have adequate time to prepare a detailed plan for the city council and begin construction in the spring.

“We can’t mess around with it for three months either,” Payne warned.

Payne said the city has some “conceptual work” to do on the bridge proposal. 

“No one has said this is not a good idea,” Payne added.

Liberty will build a $1.3 million pedestrian and bicycle tunnel this summer in conjunction with the pedestrian crossing.

The tunnel will be built under the railroad tracks behind the Vines Center, allowing students direct access from campus to Wards Road businesses.

PARKER is a news reporter.

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