June 9, 2004

Can Clarkton Bridge Be Saved?
VDOT Said To Be Moving Forward With Demolition Plans, Alliance Trying To Renew Talks

Photo by Keith Strange, G-V
Virginia Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Joe Barkley told supervisors Monday night that the decision to demolish historic Clarkton Bridge had been made and the department was proceeding to that end.

"The decision to proceed with demolition was made last week and the department is currently working toward that objective," he said.

Barkley said several factors contributed to the department's action.

Those factors include safety issues, finding a permanent owner for the bridge and maintenance issues.

In a June 2 letter to members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance - the group working to preserve the bridge - Transportation Secretary Whit Clement said the department had tried to cooperate with the Alliance, but time had run out.

"We have worked in good faith with the Clarkton Bridge Alliance in hopes that the bridge could be saved, even if only for pedestrian and other non-motorized use," he wrote. "Unfortunately, there are simply too many factors that contribute to the demolition decision."

VDOT Commissioner Phillip Sucet informed Clement of a report on the bridge in a June 1 memorandum.

"I have directed the Chief Engineer for Program Development to move forward with a project to demolish the Clarkton Bridge," he wrote. "This decision was not made lightly and I appreciate the concerns of others. However, as the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner, I believe it is the best course of action to take."

The report cited truss corrosion, the need for additional analysis on i the structural steel, the safety issues associated with potential fractures in "critical members," cracks and section loss throughout the bridge and the need for a pier to be repaired that could lead to collapse of the bridge. "We have made two separate efforts to find a suitable owner for this bridge," Sucet wrote. "In the interest of public safety, I have made the decision to demolish the bridge. "

Built in 1902, Clarkton Bridge spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties. It was closed in 1998 due to safety issues.

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.

A driving force behind the effort to save the historic bridge, P.K. Pettus told supervisors Monday that the Alliance was "stunned" to learn of the decision. "For three months, the Alliance has worked shoulder to shoulder to save Clarkton Bridge," she said. "The Alliance is stunned at the sudden about face of VDOT."

Pettus'said that a plan to save the bridge had been agreed upon by the parties involved and implementation of the plan was underway.

"We are shocked that VDOT has made a unilateral decision to demolish the bridge without bringing us back to the table to discuss the issue," she said. Pettus said the group was aware of issues such as deterioration of the bridge, "but we didn't know that it raised so much concern that it ended the plan we'd been working on."

"Wp've jumped through every hoop and cleared every hurdle presented to us," she said. "No one from VDOT contacted us to get an update on permanent owner- ship of the bridge."

The bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Pettus said.

"It can be a key element in the future slice of the tourism pie and generate revenue for both Charlotte and Halifax counties," she said.

"'We're stunned (at VDOT's decision)," Pettus said. "But we're actively trying to open the door to see if we can bring parties back to the table. If we can't save it we'll shake hands and leave the table, but we don't know what the problem is."