In Design: Appalachian Trail Bridge Over Route 311 in Roanoke County
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The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) held a virtual public comment period in July 2020 and received 377 comments.
This project currently under development will construct a new pedestrian bridge to carry the Appalachian Trail over Route 311 in Roanoke County.
The McAfee Knob trailhead of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail access is extremely popular with hikers but poses a safety concern as pedestrians entering the trail from the nearby parking lot must cross Route 311 (Catawba Valley Drive) at a location in a curve with limited sight distance.
As a long-term improvement to enhance pedestrian safety, VDOT, in partnership with the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, Roanoke County and the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, pursued plans for a bridge to carry trail users over Route 311 away from vehicular traffic.
The new concrete and steel bridge will be maintained by the National Park Service and will be approximately 90-feet long, eight feet wide and span 17.5 feet above the Route 311 roadway. The new bridge will have clearance similar to an interstate highway which means standard commercial vehicles will be able to pass beneath the structure without restriction.
To blend in with the trail’s natural setting, the bridge’s abutments and railing will have concrete architectural treatments with a tan color coating and patterns to simulate rock. The bridge’s weathered steel girders also will provide a rustic look.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is a new bridge being built?
The new bridge is being built to carry pedestrians over Route 311 away from vehicular traffic. The McAfee Knob trailhead of the Appalachian Trail access is extremely popular with hikers but the location poses a safety concern. Pedestrians entering the trail from the nearby parking lot must cross Route 311 at a location in a curve with limited sight distance where approximately 9,100 vehicles use the road each day. As a long-term improvement to enhance pedestrian safety, VDOT, in partnership with the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Roanoke County and the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, pursued plans for a new bridge.
Who has been involved in developing the project?
A planning committee was formed in 2017 to help VDOT develop the project and give input into the design. Committee members include representatives from the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, Roanoke County, Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission and the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The committee meets three to four times a year.
What will the bridge look like?
The new pedestrian bridge will be approximately 90-feet long, eight feet wide and span 17.5 feet above the Route 311 roadway. The National Park Service has provided input into the bridge's appearance so that it will blend in with the Appalachian Trail’s natural setting. The bridge’s abutments and railing will have concrete architectural treatments with a tan color coating and patterns to simulate rock. The bridge’s weathered steel girders also will provide a rustic look. No lighting will be installed on or around the new bridge to preserve the natural viewshed.
What other features will the bridge have?
The National Park Service has indicated a preference for metal stairs for ease of future maintenance. A sidewalk ramp will be constructed to allow handicapped access from the parking area onto the bridge. Bollards will be included to prevent motorized vehicle and bicycle access. A brown chain link fence will be installed on the bridge.
Will artwork be included on the new bridge?
The National Park Service and other committee members have provided input into the bridge's appearance that will blend into the natural setting. Artwork and aesthetic treatments are not included in the project.
How was this project funded and when did design start?
The estimated project cost is $2.8 million. Although a pedestrian bridge had been studied and considered in previous years, federal safety funds for a new bridge were included in VDOT's Six-Year Improvement Program in summer 2017 with project development and design beginning in 2018.
What is the construction schedule?
Construction on the bridge is scheduled to begin in fall 2024 and be completed in fall 2025. VDOT is continuing to explore opportunities to deliver the project earlier.
What will impacts be during construction?
As VDOT further develops the project, the specific traffic impacts will be determined. Temporary lane closures and traffic shifts may be required during construction. VDOT will avoid peak travel times in scheduling future roadwork. No long-term closure or detour on Route 311 is anticipated. Visitors can expect reduced parking at the trailhead only during construction with permanent parking capacity restored afterward.
How will the Appalachian National Scenic Trail be impacted by this project?
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club will realign a portion of the Appalachian Trail to connect to the new bridge and the nearby fire road. During construction, parking will be reduced and VDOT is exploring ways to minimize the parking impacts. Access to the trail will be maintained during construction.
Will the new bridge limit climbers' access to the nearby rockface?
The rock formations used for climbing will not be impacted during or after construction. Access to the nearby rockface will not be reduced by the completed bridge.
Is expanding the parking area part of the project?
Parking expansion is not a part of VDOT's project to build a new bridge. The National Park Service is responsible for the parking area and is currently conducting a Visitor Use Management Study to evaluate existing parking challenges.
What else has VDOT done to improve pedestrian safety at this location?
VDOT has installed some safety measures including rumble strips in 2014 and 2018 across Route 311 to attract motorists' attention and flashing pedestrian warning beacons for hikers in early 2018. VDOT also installed No Parking signs on Route 311 in 2014 as requested by Roanoke County law enforcement to help reduce pedestrian and vehicle interactions.
Who will be responsible for maintaining the new pedestrian bridge?
Although VDOT will oversee construction of the new bridge, the National Park Service will assume ownership and be responsible for inspecting and cleaning the bridge in the future. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will be responsible for snow removal operations and the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club will perform landscaping.
This project will enhance pedestrian safety by carrying trail users over Route 311 away from vehicular traffic.