Officials move closer to Wards Road proposal

Lynchburg and Liberty University officials drew up a tentative agreement this week to build a pedestrian bridge over Wards Road.

City Manager Kimball Payne will present the agreement to City Council members, who have the final say on building a bridge, this spring.

Looking forward — Liberty University comes one step closer to a safer Wards crossing. Photo provided

Payne said city and Liberty officials met Monday, working closely for months on the bridge proposal.
“This is a partnership,” Payne said. “We entirely intend to do this in a partnership fashion.”

Under the proposed agreement, the city would contribute $1.35 million towards the 270-foot pedestrian bridge, Payne said.

Liberty will build and own the bridge, paying $350,000 or anything exceeding the $1.7 million estimated cost.

“We are pleased with all of this and the contribution from the city,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said. “It’s not a contribution to Liberty, but a contribution to all the pedestrians on Wards Road.”

City and university officials have discussed plans to improve pedestrian safety along the heavily trafficked highway for several years.

Liberty officials asked the city to scrap plans for a street-level pedestrian crossing and instead build a bridge 18 to 20 feet above Wards Road last summer.

“I think it’s more than justified,” Falwell said.

The proposed bridge would coincide with a $1.3 million pedestrian and bicycle tunnel, which Liberty will build under the railroad tracks behind the Vines Center for access from the campus to Wards Road shopping venues.

Falwell said the university plans to put fencing along the railroad to channel students to the tunnel, which will have a gate requiring a Flames Pass to enter.

“The goal will be to force everyone to use the tunnel or take the bus and keep everyone safe,” Falwell said.

The bridge will include an elevator and stairs on the Liberty side and a ramp into the Sam’s Club parking lot.

Under the proposed agreement, Liberty will keep the bridge clean and accessible during wintry weather. Falwell said the bridge should require little maintenance, aside from servicing the elevator.

If the council agrees to the bridge, Falwell expects construction to begin right away in hopes of completing the project before the fall.

“I think it may work out,” Payne said. “I think we are making progress and moving ahead.”

City leaders also plan to make street level improvements, including median fencing, crosswalks and possibly pedestrian signals.

The city received a $400,000 Virginia Department of Transportation grant to pay for the fencing and at-grade crossing, City Planner Tom Martin said.

“Everybody’s number one concern is pedestrian safety,” Martin said. “The more things we can do to make it safer, the better we are.”

The city also has $350,000 set aside for placing walking trails beside Rock Castle Creek, which flows along Wards Road, Payne said.

Lynchburg’s Capital Improvement Plan also calls for an additional $700,000 for the trail system, Martin said.

Liberty officials want the trails, designed for pedestrians to walk between Wards Road shopping plazas, built on store-level for safety reasons.

Martin recently met with Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club officials, receiving support for the bridge and trail proposals. The store managers said many Liberty students work or shop at the retail giants.

“They were very receptive,” Martin said. “They are interested in making some connections.”

Martin said the city conducted a pedestrian traffic count in November with an average of 166 pedestrians crossing Wards Road a day.

City officials spotted 665 pedestrians crossing Wards Road during the four-day count and 233 pedestrians on a Saturday, most walking from Sonic across the highway.

“There were quite a few more pedestrians than anyone expected,” Martin said. “It really put it all into perspective. If the tunnel is completed that number will increase.”

Council is expected to discuss the tentative agreement at the end of March or April.

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