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January 11, 2016 · OPINION

Two years later, Waterloo Bridge remains in limbo

VDOT estimates it would cost $4.3 million to rehabilitate the historic bridge, closed since January 2014.
By Julie Boathouse
The Piedmont Environmental Council 


This Friday, Jan. 15, marks the two-year anniversary of the closing of the Waterloo Bridge, the well-loved but worn-down structure connecting Fauquier and Culpeper counties — known locally as “The Ghost Bridge.”

Passing motorists are now greeted by “Road Closed” signs and large concrete barriers at both sides of the iconic resource, the oldest metal-truss bridge under Virginia Department of Transportation purview.

Will it ever reopen? Many, myself included, were optimistic last January when VDOT issued a public statement that said: “Preserving the historic character of the bridge is an achievable goal…[and] a working group will be established to identify potential rehabilitation alternatives as well as address the issue of funding.”

Since then, however, no working group has been established, no funding plan has been developed and no commitments have been made. And as we wait, the structure falls further into disrepair. Eventually, it will be beyond repair. At that point, VDOT is likely to demolish the historic ghost bridge and build a new concrete one in its place. 

VDOT estimates the cost of rehabilitation of the historic bridge to be $4.3 million. Ironically, given funding is the primary setback, the estimated cost of a new concrete bridge is higher, at $6.1 million.

So, where does that leave us? As far as I’ve seen, there are two realistic options for funding the rehabilitation. One is a revenue share project where VDOT covers 50 percent, and Culpeper, Fauquier and private funding sources cover the other half. The second option is to prioritize the project in Culpeper's and Fauquier's Six-Year Improvement Plan to be funded by the federal and state funds. 

As an important note, the option of rehabilitating the bridge for solely pedestrian use, which has an estimated price-tag of $3.7 million, has been rejected by both Culpeper and Fauquier because it would cost nearly as much as the rehabilitation for vehicular use, and the counties would have to take on the maintenance responsibility.

Unfortunately, while the options are understood, nobody is making any decisions.

The bridge is a beloved cultural and scenic resource that adds character and beauty to Fauquier and Culpeper counties. It’s also a significant historic resource that is eligible for listing under the National Register of Historic Places. A symbol of American ingenuity, built in 1878, it is one of the few metal truss bridges left in Virginia, and it is the last of the four metal truss bridges that once connected Fauquier and Culpeper. 

If the current inaction continues, we will have lost something special, and we may gain a replacement that is both expensive and unremarkable.

To see what you can do to help save Waterloo Bridge, visit pecva.org/waterloobridge.

The writer is PEC’s Fauquier County land use officer.
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