Bridge closure draws concern
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jun 24, 2014, 10:56
HOPEWELL — At two different public meetings, one held in May and the other in June, City Point residents gathered in council chambers to speak out on the East Broadway bridge, recently closed due to a failed inspection, and to demand answers on concerns of public safety and transportation.
City Manager Mark Haley told residents at the meeting in May that when the 90-year-old bridge was closed during the last weeks in April, it was bound to need repairs, noting that the bridge has “been in trouble for many, many years because of its age.”
When the up-close pictures of the bridge were put on a projector screen, gasps and murmurs of concern spread through council chambers. Haley told the residents the bridge has had the weight limit reduced, recently at a 5,000 pound capacity before being closed, and putting money into the bridge for repairs would not be a wise investment.
“Inspectors used words like ‘imminent risk,’” Haley said of the failed inspection report in April. “We believe the bridge should come down, that fixing the things we showed you is really putting bad money into it. It’s going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars and I don’t know if we’d get load rated for vehicles again.”
City Engineer Johnny Butler told residents one the main components of possible bridge replacement is how much money will be needed.
Back in 2012, the city submitted an application to the Virginia Department of Transportation for a significant maintenance project on the bridge. The city did not get full funding, instead getting only 18 percent.
The application was for a total of $142,600, with the hopes of getting $72,300 as part of the 50-50 match. Instead, the city received a total of $22,069.
“If we do a repair to a level to keep the bridge stabilized, we’re eligible for that $22,069,” Butler said. “If we keep it in some use, if we tear it down, that money is not available. We’re going to have to stabilize the bridge to protect it from imminent collapse and to do the demolition work.”
Though the residents understood why the bridge needed to be taken down and why the inspection failed, it did not ease their concerns on public safety or the lack of access out of the area, most specifically Ramsey Avenue.
“It’s a public safety issue,” said Richard Newman, Hopewell’s Commonwealth’s Attorney and a resident of Ramsey Avenue. “It’s not uncommon for those egresses down on Station Street at the firehouse to be blocked. If you’ve got a medical emergency and you can’t get out of there ... and if you have a medical emergency and someone dies from it, the city is looking at some huge liability on that.”
As residents began to echo the concerns of Newman, noting that it was not uncommon for all three entrances and exits to be blocked in that area, Haley expressed surprise. Newman assured Haley that it is a regular occurrence to have all three blocked at the same time due to a stopped train.
After the meeting in June, where Ward 1 residents gathered again to speak on the bridge, Haley still held firm that there was not as big of a safety concern as residents were speaking of.
“The only time the trains are stopped at Water Street is if they are going in and out of Regional Enterprises,” Haley said. “Past the fire station, residents can take a left or a right towards Quick Lunch. It’s rare for the train to be blocking both.”
Residents also addressed the trains running underneath the bridge, asking if it was possible for the bridge to collapse on the train. Haley told residents that CSX and Regional Enterprise had been notified of the issue and neither company has responded to the city. Haley also said to “his understanding,” the trains in that area did not run every day.
Ashley and Phillip Jarratt, who have lived on Ramsey Avenue for almost 15 years, said not having the bridge there creates a huge danger for Ashley’s sister, who is hearing impaired.
“She can’t hear the trains,” Ashley said, also indicating there has been increased traffic on Ramsey Ave due to the closure of the bridge. “If she’s not looking, she’s in big danger.”
Ashely, who spoke out during the meeting in May, said at most a pedestrian bridge needs to be put up in lieu of a bridge.
“I have a 1-year-old son,” Ashley said. “I have no transportation right now. The only transportation I have is a stroller. ... We’ve almost been hit quite a few times because there’s no safety lane. It’s a big safety risk. I have no other way to take my son in or out.”
She and her father also said many children had taken to crossing underneath the bridge to get over to the other side.
One resident, who did not want to be identified, also spoke on the same concerns as expressed by Ashley. He said unless residents on that side of the bridge have a vehicle, there is no safe way out of the area.
“That’s why putting a pedestrian bridge over that thing quickly would be in everybody’s best interest and to work on the cars as a second mode,” he said.
With an overwhelming voice of residents telling city staff that some form of a bridge needed to be replaced immediately, Haley as well as Butler and other staff, began work on researching options on replacement and demolition of the bridge.
Currently an engineering firm has been hired to draft plans on demolition for the bridge. Haley said the project of demolition and putting up the pedestrian bridge will be “parallel” projects.
“We can’t put it up until the old one’s down,” Haley said.
Though in the very early stages of planning with no definitive timeline or amount of funding given, Haley said he, as well as the staff, hope to have the bridge down by August or September with the pedestrian bridge being constructed shortly thereafter.