WINCHESTER — City Council won’t seek state funds to build a $3 million pedestrian bridge that would have spanned Millwood Avenue and linked two portions of Shenandoah University’s campus.
The decision was reached Tuesday night after several councilors voiced concerns about using state taxpayer dollars to construct a bridge on behalf of a private university.
“A pedestrian bridge at that site would not be serving our residents other than SU students,” Councilor Judy McKiernan said.
Councilor Corey Sullivan, who referred to the situation as “the elephant in the room,” said he could not justify seeking a $3 million state grant for a bridge to benefit Shenandoah when there are other needs in Winchester, such as sidewalk repairs, that would serve a greater number of citizens.
“The average person would be much more comfortable if this was a shared burden,” Sullivan said about the bridge proposal. “Everybody needs to have some skin in the game here.”
Wiley said he wouldn’t object to working with Shenandoah to see if there is a way for the university and city to share the cost of the pedestrian bridge.
“We understand they have a delicate situation because they’re landlocked,” Wiley said, referring to the fact that Shenandoah has difficulty expanding its main campus because it is encircled by Interstate 81, Millwood Avenue, South Pleasant Valley Road and Jim Barnett Park.
Sullivan criticized the handling of the proposal, saying the request was brought to City Council just days before the application deadline for the grant. Such a short timeframe, he said, made it impossible for council to make a sound decision.
“This is a clear indication of why we need committees to discuss these things,” he said.
The pedestrian bridge, which would have spanned Millwood Avenue at its intersection with Mall Boulevard, was first mentioned at council’s meeting on July 14. At that time, Winchester Public Services Director Perry Eisenach told the panel, “There could be a big need for pedestrians crossing at that location,” but he did not elaborate.
The next day, July 15, Shenandoah University announced it had signed a three-year lease with an option to buy the Clarion Inn and Conference Center at 711 Millwood Ave., and planned to use the facility for student housing, food services and, possibly, additional classrooms.
The pedestrian bridge would have linked Shenandoah’s main campus to the front of the Clarion property.
“I’d be in favor of rerouting the $3 million from the bridge to another project,” Councilor Les Veach said.
Eisenach said that would be difficult because the grant would have come from the Virginia Department of Transportation in the form of Smart Scale funding, and criteria for the program is “very restrictive.”
When Mayor David Smith asked how council wanted to proceed, everyone went silent. As a result, the request to apply for the $3 million grant to build a pedestrian bridge died for lack of a motion.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session, which was held via videoconference, were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and members Kim Herbstritt, Corey Sullivan, John Willingham, Les Veach, Judy McKiernan and Bill Wiley.