July 8, 2005    



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NEARING COMPLETION – Workers were busy yesterday putting the last of the decking and pedestrian handrails on the Clarkton Bridge. VDOT officials said yesterday that work on the historic span should be completed this month, with an opening celebration scheduled for the fall. (G-V Photo/Keith Strange)

New Face Of A Historic Span

Officials Say Clarkton Bridge Repairs Almost Complete

Repairs that supporters hope will turn the aging Clarkton Bridge into a tourist destination are nearing completion, according to VDOT Assistant Resident Engineer Zack Weddle.

Weddle said yesterday that work should be completed this month, “if we don’t get much of a weather delay.”
Repairs are about 80 percent complete, he said.

“For the last several weeks we have been re-decking the entire structure with wood decking and installing a pedestrian handrail,"Weddle said.

“We have also been replacing some of the guardrail on the existing access road with a wooden fence to protect pedestrians,"he added.

Once the decking and rails are complete, VDOT will put the “finishing touches"on each end of the bridge.

“We need to put some things there to prevent vehicle access and we also will work to provide parking on the Halifax County side,"Weddle said.

He added that an opening ceremony is in the planning stages.
“We are planning to work with the Clarkton Bridge Alliance to set the ceremony for sometime in the fall,"Weddle said.
After a long and sometimes bitter battle between the Clarkton Bridge Alliance – formed to protest the planned closure of the century-old structure – and former VDOT Commissioner Phillip Shucet, Weddle said he was pleased to see the groups working together to preserve the bridge.

“I think this has been a collaborative effort between (Charlotte and Halifax) counties, VDOT and the Alliance, and we’re glad we could come to this point where people will be able to get together and enjoy nature,"Weddle said. “It really is a nice place.”

Built in 1901, Clarkton Bridge spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties.

It was closed in 1998 due to safety concerns.

In 2003, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance was given the opportunity to find a suitable owner, delaying the awarding of a demolition contract for the bridge.

But in a letter to members of the Alliance in early June, 2004, then-Transportation Secretary Whitt Clement said the department had tried to cooperate with the Alliance but, citing safety and liability issues, time had run out.

Demolition began shortly thereafter, but was put on hold as a one-week reprieve was offered to spare the structure. The bridge was subsequently spared as an agreement was reached between VDOT and the Alliance.

Advocates said saving the bridge was the first step in a regional initiative focusing on heritage tourism and outdoor recreation along the Staunton River corridor.

“The bridge is the catalyst for a larger tourism effort in the county using the Staunton River as a centerpiece,” W.W. “Ted” Bennett said shortly after the bridge was spared. “If we’d lost the bridge, there would have been a large piece of the puzzle missing.”

Bennett said that despite the initial controversy over the bridge, the working relationship between the Alliance and VDOT couldn’t have been better as construction progressed.

“The former VDOT commissioner (Shucet) and VDOT couldn’t have been more helpful, understanding and accommodating in agreeing to save the bridge, and even went farther than that in agreeing to keep the bridge in the state system,"he said. “That means that the costs for all future repairs and maintenance will be borne by VDOT."

Through support from several area corporations, contributions from individual donors and the cooperation of Shucet, critical repairs to the span began in late September, 2004.

Bennett said that most of the repairs and materials were provided at “much below"cost.

Proponents of saving the bridge say the structure could be an economic engine by promoting tourism and could be a part of planned birding and heritage tourism efforts.

It has been designated a stop on Virginia’s Birding and Wildlife Trail and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.