June 28, 2004

Bridge Backers 'Scrambling' To Satisfy

VDOT Chief Demands $1.5 Mil Repair Fund;
Engineer Says $250,000 Is Enough For Task

“We’re scrambling,” said P.K. Pettus of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance yesterday. Pettus was referring to action following Thursday’s demand by State Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet that Halifax and Charlotte counties put up $1.5 million to fund repairs needed to bring the 102 year old Clarkton Bridge back up to VDOT standards.

Shucet told an audience that met at Ted Bennett’s law office at 3 p.m. Thursday which included three Halifax County Supervisors, Pettus, a Charlotte County supervisor and others that the funds would have to be made available for the repairs by the close of business on Friday, July 2, 2004 in order to halt demolition of the bridge which began on Wednesday when the contractor started removing the bridge’s decking.In the meantime, Shucet said he had called the contractor off the job of dismantling the bridge until the Friday deadline.

“On Friday we were scanning all possible sources to satisfy Shucet’s terms,” Pettus said yesterday. She noted that her group is hearing a lot of interest in saving the old camelback truss bridge, but as of yesterday there was noting definite to report.

“The folks we have talked to greatly admire the stands taken by both local governing bodies, as well as their Industrial Development Authorities. ”The philanthropic conservation groups are intrigued and show a lot of support for the bridge’s preservation, but there are a lot of questions that have to be answered before they can actually pledge funds,” Pettus said. She noted that the bridge has gained national attention as well as statewide support.

Pettus said potential donors want to know exactly what the $1.5 million will be used for, and if all of that is necessary to bring the bridge up to standards for a pedestrian route. They also want to be assured that the bridge will pass inspection once the necessary work is done, and they are interested in knowing exactly what entity the grants should be made to.

A North Carolina civil structure engineer who has spent many years doing bridge work lent another suggestion to preserving the bridge. Bill Wescott, who says he helped years ago to rescue a Pennsylvania bridge of similar structure — what he termed “a sister bridge” to Clarkton — said bridge supporters should and could seek an injunction from a local court to halt the demolition for six months to ensure time to address the preservation effort. Wescott explained that he had examined Clarkton Bridge and estimated that it should cost no more than $250,000, including work to the piers of the bridge, to bring it into good condition for a hiking-biking trail route. He termed the $1.5 million demand for repair costs as “crazy.”

Wescott referred to Dr. Howard Newlon, a senior construction consultant at the University of Virginia who had said that necessary repairs should not require $1.5 million.

Wescott also said supporters should bring to the attention of potential statewide candidates — those running next year for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — the importance of the historic old structure to economic development and tourism in the area. “They need to know about this issue and its impact on the community.”

Pettus added that she feels some of kind endowment is clearly a role for the private sector to pursue to cover future maintenance and repairs to the bridge.

“It’s like I said, we’re scrambling, hoping to find something that works,” Pettus said as she obviously was fielding calls from many individuals yesterday.

In the meantime, members of the Virginia State Police say they are keeping a constant check on the bridge although they are not maintaining round the clock surveillance as they had earlier in the week. “We check on it regularly, but we really have not seen any problems there,” one said yesterday.