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May 18, 2017

Waterloo Bridge hearing draws concerned citizens

Photos/Cassandra Brown
VDOT Environmental Program Planner Sarah Clarke, restoration advocate Mary Root of Remington and County Preservation Planner Wendy Wheatcraft review an aerial photo of the Waterloo Bridge and its surroundings.
Bridge neighbor Michelle Dowd, who opposes its reopening, shares her concerns with Commonwealth Transportation board member Scott Kasprowicz of Middleburg.
There are still a lot of unknowns with cost. We are fairly confident it can be restored, but there is still no absolute guarantee.
— VDOT Resident Engineer Mark Nesbit
Waterloo Bridge
• What: Wrought iron truss with wooden deck, erected in 1878; renovated in 1919.

• Where: Waterloo Road (Route 613) across Rappahannock River west of Orlean, connecting Fauquier and Culpeper counties.

• Closed: January 2014 because of deterioration.

• Estimated rehabilitation: $4 million.

• Public hearing: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, Warrenton Community Center, 430 E. Shirley Ave.

• Attendance: 94 signed register.

• VDOT project info: Click here.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Citizens who favor restoring the Waterloo Bridge came in force to a public hearing Wednesday in Warrenton.

Ninety-four people signed in during the Virginia Department of Transportation’s two-hour event to solicit public comments.

“My interest is strictly from a historic point of view. I would love to see it preserved,” Warrenton resident Dave Gerrish. “I think we have an obligation to preserve some of our past . . . if it can be functional.”

“I think the bridge needs to be put back into service . . . and preserved,” said Bryan Jacobs, a Fauquier County Architectural Review Board member who lives near Remington. “There are very few of them left, and already we’ve let some of them get away from us.”

However, several citizens who live on either side of the Rappahannock River near the bridge oppose reopening it to vehicles because of concerns about traffic and littering.

Michelle Dowd, who lives on the Culpeper side, hopes the span will remain closed to vehicles.

“When the bridge was open, there was a lot of loitering, dumping of trash. The bridge was being abused,” Ms. Dowd said. “It’s better for the bridge if it’s made into a park or pedestrian bridge.”

“It’s not a necessary route,” she added. “We don’t want to see it taken down . . . but don’t want it used for vehicles. It wasn’t meant for that. You have to put yourself in the shoes of people (who live) in the area.”

Phoebe Tufts and her husband Paul Decher own about eight acres next to the bridge in Fauquier.

Ms. Tufts hopes VDOT will take a longer-term approach to preserving the Waterloo Bridge. She opposes reopening it to vehicles and suggests “truly saving the bridge by removing it and taking it somewhere,” such as a park.

“Our number one concern is this is a poor use of taxpayer money,” Ms. Tufts said. “But, at the same time, we understand saving the bridge.”

Earlier this month, VDOT unveiled a $4-million proposal that would include “dismantling and removing the truss structure, making repairs and then reinstalling the bridge.”

The 139-year-old, single-lane over the Rappahannock has remained closed since January 2014.

A donor’s recent, $1-million pledge toward the bridge’s restoration apparently helped revive interest after discussion stalled more than two years ago.

“We felt like that was the opportunity to get the discussion of the project going again,” said Mark Nesbit, VDOT’s Warrenton resident engineer. “It’s a significant amount of money for a private citizen to propose.”

Russell Hitt, who owns Hitt Construction in Falls Church, and his wife Joan earlier this year pledged the $1 million toward rehabilitation. Mr. Hitt also owns property near the bridge in Rappahannock County.

But, additional funding for the project remains uncertain. The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which controls funding, has allocated nothing for the project.

“There are still a lot of unknowns with cost,” Mr. Nesbit said. “We are fairly confident it can be restored, but there is still no absolute guarantee.”

VDOT officials will submit citizen comments to the board, which would decide whether to seek funding from several sources, including Culpeper and Fauquier counties.

“The county support of the project would be very important . . . for the CTB, if it came to that point,” Mr. Nesbit said.

In 2014, VDOT outlined five options, including construction of a modern, single-lane bridge for an estimated $2.5 million. A new, two-lane bridge would cost $5.5 million, VDOT estimated at that time.

For more expensive rehabilitation, the state agency asked Fauquier and Culpeper counties to share the cost.

But, the two affected counties and PEC commissioned an engineering study that put the restoration cost at $1.8 million — less than half the VDOT estimate at the time of $5 million.

Then, in January 2015, a VDOT study estimated rehabilitation would cost $4.8 million versus $6.1 million for a new, two-lane bridge.

Recently, the agency re-evaluated the range of estimates, resulting in the $4 million price tag for restoration of the historic structure. To reduce costs, the agency removed road improvements on either side of the bridge, according to Project Manger Howard Tomlinson.

The bridge, which an average of 630 vehicles used per day, connects Fauquier and Culpeper counties near Orlean.

Built in 1878, the span provided a popular shortcut on Old Waterloo Road (Route 613) from western Fauquier to Clevenger’s Corner, where Routes 211 and 229 meet in Culpeper.

VDOT more than three years ago closed the bridge because extreme deterioration made it unsafe for vehicles, even with a posted weight limit of 3 tons.

Since the closure, the Warrenton-based PEC and some citizens have advocated to save the span for its cultural and historical significance.

Preservation Virginia in January 2014 put the Waterloo Bridge on its 10th annual list of “Virginia’s Most Endangered Historical Sites.”

Citizens have until May 27 to send comments to: Howard Tomlinson, VDOT Project Manager, 1601 Orange Road, Culpeper, Va. 22701 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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