June 10, 2004

Clarkton Demolition To Begin In Two Weeks

By Tom McLaughlin, News & Record Staff

With demolition slated to begin in less than two weeks, time is running out fast for the Clarkton Bridge.

VDOT Resident Engineer Joe Barkley confirmed yesterday that the highway department has executed a contract to demolish the century-old bridge spanning the Staunton River. Demolition work is scheduled to begin Monday, June 21 with a fixed date for completion of Dec. 15, 2004.

"We've let (the contract) and I should be getting a signed, printed copy this week," said Barkley, adding, "At VDOT, we're moving forward."

VDOT is able to move quickly on the demolition process after advertising the job in early 2003. In May of last year, Burleigh Construction Company of Concord, Va. was awarded the contract with a low bid of just under $200,000. But the job was put on hold while VDOT worked with the Clarkton Bridge Alliance and local governments in an effort to save the historic structure.

With VDOT's announcement last week that it would proceed with tearing down the bridge, the groundwork is in place to move quickly on the project.

Advocates for Clarkton Bridge are trying to win a reprieve, taking their case to the highest levels of state government in hopes of reversing VDOT's decision, said Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy this week.

"It would appear that Commissioner (Phillip) Shucet was not totally informed" about progress towards saving the structure, said Espy.

Espy said that discussions on Clarkton Bridge "are taking place at the cabinet level" of the Warner Administration. He also said the Clarkton Bridge Alliance is sending a packet of information to Attorney General Jerry Kilgore that addresses liability and ownership issues surrounding Clarkton Bridge. These issues, among others, apparently convinced VDOT to throw in the towel on efforts to save the bridge.

But with Shucet visiting the West Coast and members of the Warner Administration - including Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement - on a trade mission to China until next week, the bridge alliance faces a daunting timeframe as VDOT finalizes its demolition plans.

Barkley, asked if he could envision circumstances whereby Clarkton Bridge would be granted another reprieve, was non-committal.

"If you asked me that same question in May '03, I would probably have said no," he said. "But there was an intervention, they (the bridge alliance) got an extension. But we have awarded the contract and we're moving forward."

Barkley said the contract with Burleigh was signed Tuesday and "we are scheduling now to meet with the contractor and get his plan of operation." Because Burleigh's bid had already been accepted last year, there was no need to readvertise the project or take other steps that might draw out the timeframe.

"The notice to proceed date, which is contract jargon, is June 21," said Barkley.

Burleigh will have access to Clarkton Bridge from the public boat landing on the Charlotte County side of the river. As work proceeds, the contractor will have to work with local landowners to gain rights of way to the bridge site.

The decision to tear down the bridge came as a bitter pill to preservationists, local government officials and others who had labored to save the structure, but Barkley said there were too many issues with the bridge for VDOT's comfort.

"I think all the factors that were still pending, such as full time ownership, safety concerns, annual maintenance costs, liability issues - all those were identified as things that had to be addressed, but we were never able to get closure on them," he said.

For, its part, the Clarkton Bridge Alliance says VDOT's decision runs contrary to the findings of its own engineers that the structure is salvageable for about the same cost it would take to tear it down. The alliance also made arrangements with APVA Virginia, a preservation organization, to take over interim ownership of the bridge - and relieve VDOT of liability - until a permanent owner can be found.

"This thing is just so out of, whack," said Espy yesterday. "I think the CTB (Commonwealth Transportation Board) has to say, what is going on? And hopefully the attorney general is going to get the same message.