June 4, 2004

VDOT Acts To Demolish Bridge
Preservationists Of Clarkton Bridge Stunned By Action

Photo by Keith Strange, G-V
With new orders calling for its destruction, historic Clarkton Bridge’s fate is once again in question.

Citing public safety concerns, Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet called Wednesday for the demolition of the historic bridge.

Clarkton Bridge preservationists were stunned by the action.

But the die is not necessarily cast.

“We are working to resolve the issue,” Del. Clarke Hogan said yesterday.

Hogan said he had talked with various officials yesterday.

“I think there is some confusion between VDOT and those supporting the (bridge) project,” he said.

“We are going to take it back to VDOT and see if they will reverse their decision.”

Hogan cited permanent ownership of the bridge as one issue.

Clarkton Bridge Alliance member P.K. Pettus said yesterday that the Virginia Historic Properties Revolving Fund is ready to assume ownership, responsibility and liability for Clarkton Bridge as its interim owner and that their insurers have confirmed the revolving fund can obtain liability insurance.

“The Clarkton Bridge Alliance is actively pursuing several prospects for long-term ownership,” added Pettus. “If VDOT needs to know more about the status of this effort, we are happy to discuss it.”

The Keysville native said the Alliance had concentrated its efforts on the details association with preparing to transfer ownership of the bridge to the revolving fund.

She said she knew that VDOT is eager to terminate their responsibility for the bridge.

“We are working with the revolving fund and local landowners to make that happen as soon as possible,” she added.

But in its announcement Wednesday, VDOT officials cited safety issues.

“Reports indicate that there is major structural damage to the bridge which could result in collapse,” said W.T. Ramey, P.E., VDOT’s Lynchburg District administration.

“Without major rehabilitation, the long-term viability of the bridge is in jeopardy. 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,” he said in a prepared release.

“This is a huge derailment,” said Alliance member Carl Espy of Halifax.

“Clearly, there is support from our elected officials n both Halifax and Charlotte counties,” he added.

The bridge, which spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties, has drawn support from supervisors as a tourism component in a walking and bike trail.

“As a 10,000 square foot wildlife watching platform spanning a state scenic river, Clarkton Bridge will be one of the most talked about, written about stops on the new Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail,” said Pettus.

“Increasingly, rural areas recognize that heritage tourism and nature tourism can be a key element in their economic development strategy,” she added.

“Why use state funds to destroy an asset when those same funds can be used to adapt this bridge to become a key element in pans for regional tourism and recreation?”

Both Espy and Pettus expressed astonishment at the turn of events, citing “shoulder-to-shoulder” efforts with VDOT officials on the project.

“We understand that VDOT attorneys in Richmond have raised new legal concerns,” said Pettus. “We are disappointed that senior VDOT officials acted upon this information without bringing all parties back to the table to discuss these concerns.”

The multi-span metal Camelback through truss structure was built in 1902.

VDOT described the bridge’s 1998 closing as the result of “extensive undermining” of one of the structure’s pier footings.