When Brian Montgomery and his fellow residents of Hollybrook Apartments go shopping, it's a bit like playing a live-action, high-stakes version of Frogger. Back in September 2000, it was very nearly game-over for Montgomery when he was hit by a car while crossing busy U.S. Route 1 in Henrico County.
Knocked clear out of his wheelchair, Montgomery was lucky to live. Bill Rice, also a wheelchair-bound resident of Hollybrook, wasn't so lucky in 1993. He died.
Eight years after Montgomery began a campaign to improve safety for handicapped pedestrians crossing U.S. 1 — many of them confined to wheelchairs — it looks like the wheels may come off a Virginia Department of Transportation project aimed at making the crossing safer.
Word of the snag came last week in a letter to Montgomery from Brian Walker, a VDOT project engineer. That snag, according to Walker's letter, is a deed on the St. Joseph's Villa property that its administrators say prevents them from donating property along U.S. 1 for a highway project.
“Neither VDOT nor Henrico have additional funding that can be allocated to the project at this time,” Walker writes.
Walker indicates that an alternative proposal by county and highway department representatives — one that would involve the state buying the property and then the nonprofit St. Joseph's donating the proceeds of that sale back into the project — doesn't seem to have gained traction with representatives.
It's hard news for Montgomery — and for the other 60 or so residents of Hollybrook, an independent-living apartment complex that caters to people with significant physical handicaps. Following his accident, Montgomery worked tirelessly to negotiate cooperation among county officials, the highway department and administrators with the St. Joseph's, which owns Hollybrook.
Montgomery brought the parties together and worked to secure nearly $2 million in funding for the project. He received promises from St. Joseph's Villa that it would donate the right of way along U.S. 1 to make room for sidewalks, an improved crosswalk and a turn lane off U.S. 1 to Villa Park Drive.
St. Joseph's Villa's chief executive, Kathleen Barrett, who previously told Style that the property would be donated, confirms that giving away the property may be impossible.
“We obviously want the project to go through and we want to cooperate with VDOT and the county,” she says, though she insists that county and state officials were informed long ago that it might not be able to donate the property. “Evidently, this was all presented by the Villa attorneys, but no one had any record of this information.”
Barrett referred to the nonprofit's attorney, Dave Redmond, for further comment. Redmond's comment: “No comment.”
“I didn't know what to think,” Montgomery says.
Best he can reckon, St. Joseph's new reticence comes from the nonprofit's surprise that VDOT and the county, frequently at odds on road matters, had found a way to work together on the project.
“I don't think they really expected this thing to come to pass,” he says.