Hollybrook resident finally getting closure

As disabled residents of the Hollybrook Apartments on St. Joseph’s Villa property south of the main campus navigate to cross Brook Road, many face difficulties with traffic and are fearful for their safety. Resident Brian Montgomery has been fighting for enhancements for the Brook Road corridor along the Villa’s property since 2000, when he was struck by an SUV while on his way to get groceries. His chair wound up under the vehicle and he barely escaped breaking his neck. Twelve years later, he is finally seeing plans put in motion to make the corridor a safer area for residents and pedestrians.

The Hollybrook complex is a HUD Section 8 apartment community for people living with disabilities and was designed for people confined to wheelchairs. It now serves seniors and people with mental illnesses as well and consists of two developments, Hollybrook I and Hollybrook II; each has 30 units.

For the residents of Hollybrook, crossing the busy intersection is something they do daily because across Brook Road sits a Wal-mart and other stores that many of them frequently use. With a high number of handicapped people in close proximity to a major roadway, the chances of getting hit or dealing with careless drivers has escalated. It’s frustrating for tenants because despite safety concerns, there have been no major improvement to the road for more than 60 years – until now.

Things are finally moving forward, as VDOT and Henrico County are funding a $5.5 million project at the site. The construction budget originally was assessed at $2.4 million, but after a delay of five years to finalize plans, the cost more than doubled.

Project plans include sidewalk enhancements at the Villa entrance and Wal-mart entrance at the back of Hollybrook; sidewalks will be enlarged from four feet to seven feet. A sidewalk behind Brook Road that runs from the corner of Villa Park Drive to the entrance of Hollybrook will be enlarges as well, and an additional sidewalk will be built to run all to way to Parham Road in front of the Villa.

It has taken more than a decade of advocating through letters, e-mails, meeting and phone calls for Montgomery and residents of Hollybrook Apartments to see any signs of change. Montgomery wishes the issue had been handled sooner, so that several life-altering incidents could’ve been avoided.

“I got hit back in 2000 and I met some neighbors of mine and we started contacting Henrico County, trying to get sidewalks and improvements out here in Hollybrook," he said. "When it was built in 1984 they should’ve put the sidewalks in but they didn't. We’ve been going back and forth with Henrico County and VDOT for about 12 years trying to get it all nailed down."

A few sidewalk and crosswalk signals were added to the Brook and Wilkinson intersection more than five years ago, but the changes almost served as a temporary fix to the serious safety issue that residents encounter.

“When crossing Brook Road, you have to put your life in your own hands to get across there because the traffic just keeps on getting worse and worse. We do have countdown clocks and sensors at the stoplights now to help us but it’s not enough,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery has been lobbying for years to see changes made and has dealt with defeat before. His hopes were raised in 2005 when Henrico officials allocated $500,000 toward the project, but when funds from VDOT fell through, so did the transportation fix.

The corridor enhancements have an expected completion date of November 2012. Until then, Montgomery is going to be patient and hope that his continued efforts and optimism will lead to positive changes for himself and the residents of Hollybrook.

“It isn't going to hit me until i see the improvements and I see them putting in the changes,” he said.

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