Coordinates: Free Bridge is a seven-lane highway bridge spanning the Rivanna River, crossing the border from Charlottesville on the east to Albemarle County's Pantops neighborhood on the west. The road is part of U.S. Route 250 and Virginia State Route 20.
The Virginia legislature authorized a toll bridge over the Rivanna River in 1762 to provide another option for travelers who perviously had to cross the river by ferry or on Three Notched Road near the Woolen Mills. That toll bridge was never built and the bridge that eventually was constructed did not charge tolls, thus the moniker "Free Bridge."
The name "free bridge" appears in several area businesses and groups, including Free Bridge Auto, which has moved from its original site immediately adjacent to the bridge, Free Bridge Chiropractic, and the Free Bridge Quintet, UVA's faculty jazz combo.
The bridge was redesigned and widened from four to seven lanes in 1993 by then-UVA professors Ellen Dunham-Jones and Jude LeBlanc. Dunham-Jones said that they attempted to create a "unique gateway into Charlottesville, not just a standard-issue widened stretch of highway happening to cross a waterway." The bridge has been acclaimed by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, being honored as an instance of excellence in design. A local photographer has described the structure as "an elegant, simply designed bridge."
The bridge as constructed does not include a fishing platform and banner poles that were part of the original 1993 design.