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November 7, 2017 · OPINION

Supervisors vote Nov. 9 critical to Waterloo Bridge

By Julie Bolthouse
Piedmont Environmental Council

Waterloo Bridge spans the Rappahannock River, connecting Fauquier and Culpeper counties, and is a treasured historic resource for local residents and visitors to the region. Unfortunately, it’s been closed to traffic and awaiting repair for nearly four years now. Built in 1878, it was the oldest metal truss bridge still in service in the state, before it was shut down by the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2014 for safety reasons.

Due to the length of time the bridge has been out of operation, it’s now in danger of becoming a victim of what’s called, “demolition by neglect.” The clock is ticking. And this Thursday, November 9, the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing and take a vote that could very well determine the bridge’s fate.

If the Fauquier board approves a resolution of support, then rehabilitation can move forward.

If the board does not approve a resolution of support, the rehabilitation option is expected to stall, and removal and replacement of the bridge becomes likely (as was originally proposed in 2014 in VDOT’s 6-year plan).

It could all come down to this vote.

How did we get to this point? Following the closure of the bridge, there was a huge citizen response in support of saving the structure. Thousands of people have taken action. They have signed a petition, wrote emails, made phone calls, attended meetings, posted on Facebook and put up yard signs, all in support of saving Waterloo Bridge. Although many would have liked to see the bridge converted to a pedestrian structure, the cost for doing so would be nearly the same as rehabilitation for vehicular traffic and VDOT would no longer maintain it, leaving that financial burden on the counties. In light of these challenges, the Piedmont Environmental Council has encouraged residents to pursue rehabilitation for vehicular traffic.  

In a major positive step, both Fauquier and Culpeper adopted resolutions in 2016 requesting that the bridge be rehabilitated rather than replaced. VDOT took notice and requested that the counties contribute to the cost of the rehabilitation; however, both chose not to contribute any matching funds. That paralyzed the project. However, earlier this year, the Hitt family came forward as a private donor to pledge $1 million toward the project.

In light of the generous pledge, VDOT has decided to move the project forward without a contribution of funds from the counties. VDOT does, however, need the Fauquier board of supervisors to pass a resolution granting authority to the county administrator to move forward with appropriate agreements to utilize the $1 million in private funding as a match.

County officials have expressed some concern about potential cost overruns and any liability they might have. However, I was told they are drafting a version of the resolution that will provide all of the parties with the comfort needed to move forward.

Please, express your support for the rehabilitation by coming out to the board of supervisors public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in the Warren Green Building at 10 Hotel St., Warrenton.

At the hearing, your comments can be a very simple sentence in support of rehabilitation, simply stating your appreciation for the historic bridge and that you enjoyed driving over it. If you can’t attend the meeting, you can also email a letter to the board of supervisors with a comment of support.

The Waterloo Bridge is one of the unique features that makes Fauquier County special. After nearly four years of pushing for this rehabilitation, we just need to get this project through to the final step.

The writer is Warrenton-based PEC’s field representative for Fauquier County.
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