Clarkton Bridge is falling down

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It’s a sad day when we allow a historic landmark to be razed because it has deteriorated beyond repair.

Such is the fate of the Clarkton Bridge in Charlotte and Halifax counties. The Virginia Department of Transportation is proposing to remove the bridge, which has been closed to vehicles for more than a decade, and shut down to any traffic since 2015. It’s been a slow death, with VDOT holding two years of meetings to decide what to do – or not do – with the bridge.

Already the bridge has been honored for its historic value. It’s listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register as well as the National Register of Historic Places. Also recognizing its significance is the Historic American Engineering Register.

The Clarkton Bridge is known best for its intricate truss spans, but its weakness is a series of loop-welded, die-forged “eyebars” that were commonly used in the 19th century. The problem is that the eyebars are prone to cracking, and just such a crack was discovered on the Clarkton Bridge in 2008.

There have been no other cracks reported, and the existing crack has not expanded since it was discovered a decade ago. The bridge itself prevents maintenance. Trusses packed in tightly make it next to impossible to access the failure-prone eyebars.

By the time the cracks were discovered, the Clarkton Bridge had already fallen into serious disrepair. VDOT could transfer ownership to Charlotte and Halifax, but it takes approval from the Virginia General Assembly. That can’t happen until 2019, given the recent adjournment of the assembly, scattering lawmakers to the far reaches of Virginia to focus on their re-election campaigns.

Here’s what VDOT proposes. It will remove the bridge, but Charlotte and Halifax can submit written requests to have VDOT salvage one of the trusses and transfer its ownership to the respective jurisdictions. Even if the counties ask for the trusses, it will take VDOT until 2019 to dismantle them.

How much of the Clarkton Bridge could’ve been saved had VDOT acted sooner? We’ll never know, but it raises the question of how diligently VDOT acted to protect the historical significance of the bridge. Let’s hope the state acts more quickly next time.