Hampton Roads, Virginia

300 protest planned demolition of historic bridge

By the Associated Press, Published June 20, 2004

HALIFAX, Va. -- About 300 citizens of Halifax and Charlotte counties gathered Sunday to protest the impending demolition of historic Clarkton Bridge.

"There have been comments that say people aren't interested in saving this bridge," advocate Doug Powell said as he stood on the span over the Staunton River. "I guess this shows different."

After months of working with the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, a Virginia Department of Transportation official on June 2 announced plans to tear down the structure, citing safety issues and the inability to find a permanent owner.

"Reports indicate that there is major structural damage to the bridge which could result in collapse," W.T. Ramey, VDOT's Lynchburg District administrator, said in a statement.

But advocates of saving the bridge cited a study conducted by VDOT six months ago that indicated the bridge could be saved cost-effectively.

In a letter to members of the alliance earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Whit Clement said the department had tried to cooperate, but time had run out.

The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority passed a resolution Thursday requesting a 45-day delay in the demolition. The IDA proposed that Halifax and Charlotte counties form a joint authority to oversee ownership of the property.

Supporters of the bridge said Sunday they have not given up.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep this bridge and organize a group to oversee and take ownership of this historic structure," said IDA member Jack Dunavant.

Many of the advocates blamed unilateral actions by VDOT for the impending demolition.

"There's been more undermining in the fate of this bridge in the past two months from Richmond than in the past 100 years from the Staunton River," alliance member Carl Espy said.

Built in 1901, Clarkton Bridge spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties. It was closed in 1998 due to safety issues.

VDOT advertised the contract for the bridge's demolition in May 2003, but delayed its award to give the bridge alliance an opportunity to find a suitable owner.

Bridge advocates say the structure could help promote tourism. 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.

Information from: The Gazette-Virginian