June 18, 2004

IDA Wants Clarkton Bridge Spared
Advocates To Gather Sunday At Bridge

Photo by Keith Strange, G-V
In a special called meeting of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority yesterday morning, a resolution passed that if approved by VDOT, could save the historic Clarkton Bridge.

Through the resolution, faxed to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Governor Mark Warner's office and Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement, the group requested a 45 day reprieve from demolition.

The Board wants to form a joint Halifax/Charlotte county authority to take permanent ownership of the bridge.

"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the IDA of Halifax County unanimously passed the above resolution to request a forty-five (45) day extension of the demolition contract in order to work with the Charlotte County IDA to facilitate the passing of the title of the Clarkton Bridge to a Regional Authority," the resolution reads in part.

Board member Jack Dunavant said VDOT estimated it would cost between $15-$20,000 annually to maintain the bridge, but that the potential economic impact of preserving the bridge outweighed any costs associated with upkeep.

"Minimally, the bridge could be used for tourism," he said. "There are many organizations that have expressed an interest in owning the bridge.

"It would be a travesty if this bridge is torn down," Dunavant added.

He called saving the bridge a "no-lose situation," for the IDA.

"I don't think we can lose on this," he said. "It's imperative that we save this historic structure.

"Chairman John Cannon said he felt VDOT would require regional authorization before turning over ownership of the property.

"VDOT wants an established regional organization to take this bridge," he said. "I'd be for putting forth a resolution to stop (the planned demolition), but I don't want us to own it for liability purposes."

"I think it's time to strike a blow for historic preservation in Halifax County," Dunavant said. "It's time to save this bridge."

In a one-page press release dated June 2, a VDOT spokesman announced plans to tear down the structure, citing safety issues and the inability to find a permanent owner for the bridge.

"We're proceeding with the demolition as planned," Halifax County VDOT Resident Engineer Joe Barkley said shortly after the release was issued.

VDOT advertised the contract for the bridge's demolition in May, 2003, with the awarding of the contract going to Burleigh Construction of Concord, Virginia, at a bid price of $197,826.

The planned demolition was put on hiatus as the Alliance sought a permanent owner for the bridge.

"Since then (May, 2003), we've been working to try to transfer the ownership to the Alliance and the APVA (the Alliance for the Preservation of Virginia)," Barkley said. "All the particulars couldn't be worked out."

In the notice, W.T. Ramey, VDOT's Lynchburg District administrator, said the decision to demolish the bridge was made based on safety issues.

"Reports indicate that there is major structural damage to the bridge which could result in collapse," he said. "After extensive efforts to work with citizens desirous of saving the bridge, VDOT must consider the safety of area citizens and visitors to the region and proceed."

But members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, a group formed to advocate the preservation of the bridge, say that a study conducted by VDOT six months ago indicated the bridge could be saved cost-effectively.

In an e-mail response on the bridge issue, Clement said VDOT was more concerned with the public's safety.

"In addition to building roads, one if its (VDOT) chief responsibilities is public safety," he wrote. "Fulfilling that responsibility with respect to the bridge - and its increasingly perilous condition - becomes severely strained when one considers that the bridge has been closed for about six years now."

"It would just be a travesty for this thing to be torn down," Dunavant said yesterday. "We have a chance to possibly save the bridge. Do we want to or not?"

Advocates of the preservation of the bridge plan to gather at the 102-year-old bridge at 4 p.m. Sunday, one day before demolition is scheduled to get underway.