Clarkton Bridge deemed unsafe

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Clarkton Bridge, a historical fixture that spans the Staunton River between Charlotte and Halifax counties, has been deemed unsafe.

During the June meeting of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, Phenix/Aspen District Supervisor Haywood Hamlet said the bridge is closed to pedestrian traffic.

“Even if monies can come to fix it or whatever, down the road there’s a good chance in the next … short period of time, (the bridge) may have to come down even if it goes back in another way,” Haywood said.

“My understanding from working with the group of stakeholders is we’re going through a process that’s called Section 106 process, because the casings on the Clarkton Bridge are deemed as historically significant,” Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Resident Engineer Scot Shippee said during the meeting.

He said the Section 106 process determines what type of impact any modifications to the bridge could have.

Clarkton Bridge Alliance representative P.K. Pettus said the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Obtaining a federal permit or applying for federal funds triggers a Section 106 Review under the National Historic Preservation Act. In this case, it’s VDOT’s need for a permit,” Pettus said.

According to Pettus, because the Stanton River is a navigable waterway, VDOT will need a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to work in the river.

“I think that the general consensus, I believe, was that everybody understands that the condition that the bridge is in it cannot stay,” Shippee said.

He said it is most likely that within the next 18 months the bridge would come down. However, Shippee said options are being weighed to preserve pieces of the existing bridge.

“There will be some potential panels put up to illustrate the historical significance of (the bridge),” Shippee said. “I know that the Clarkton Bridge Alliance is working on doing some fundraising to potentially put some sort of pedestrian bridge up in the future in that area.”

Restoring the bridge is a work in progress as the structure continues to deteriorate, becoming a safety hazard to those who float, swim in or use the river below it.

According to the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, the bridge was first built in 1901.

It was later closed in 1998, but reopened again to the public in 2005. The bridge was previously used as a link for walking, bicycling and horseback riding trails, according to the alliance.

In order to rehabilitate the bridge an estimated $7-8 million would be needed, according to the alliance. Because public funding sources are limited, the work would require private funds from individuals or philanthropic foundations and corporations, according to officials.

“Immediately following the September stakeholders meeting for the Clarkton Bridge, several stakeholders decided that we needed to retain an expert to help us understand the facts and options,” said Pettus. 

She said VDOT identified “individuals, organizations and government entities who care about or have a stake in the outcome.“

Pettus said Bridge Preservation Expert Steve Olson of Olson and Nesvold Engineers was hired to review VDOT’s documents.

According to information provided by Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy regarding Olson’s site visit, a roster of alternatives presented by VDOT in September 2016 included two demolition options, two replacement options and a single historic reconstruction option estimated at $10.7 million.

Pettus said while VDOT will not accept Olson’s suggestion to preserve the bridge, other options are available.

“It appears we have convinced VDOT that this very special historic place deserves a replacement pedestrian and bicycling bridge — one that will be owned and maintained by VDOT,” she said. “Also, agency staff noted last week that VDOT may be able to identify funding sources to provide match funds that could cover as much as half the cost.”

The next stakeholders meeting will be held in September and the eventual consensus will be reflected in a memorandum of understanding, which will be co-signed by Army Corps of Engineers and the Director of Virginia Department of Historic Resources, according to Pettus.