By Kim Walter -- email@example.com
Preservation Virginia has placed the Morgan Ford Bridge in Warren County on their 2012 Most Endangered Historic Sites list for the state.
The 321-foot single-lane low-water concrete bridge was built in 1925. The historic crossing location was used as a ford in the 18th and 19th centuries.
According to the Preservation's website, "VDOT proposes to replace it with an all-weather elevated bridge that would greatly change the character of the approach, the landings and the community served by the existing bridge...ultimately disrupting the rural farming landscape and opening the opportunity for inappropriate and unchecked development."
Preservation Virginia goes on to recommend repair of the existing bridge instead of a full replacement.
While VDOT does have plans to implement a two-lane, elevated bridge with a 40 ton limit, the project is still in the design phase and won't go out to bid until the fall of 2015 with an estimated cost of $7.2 million, said County Administrator Doug Stanley.
"The bridge has a traffic count of about 1,500 vehicles per day," Stanley said. "Particularly if you live in the Shenandoah Farms area, it's much closer to go that route heading to Rt. 522 or Winchester then driving all the way through town."
Using the bridge as a faster connection to different parts of the county holds true for Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Mabie. He said the distance is cut in half by taking Morgan Ford Bridge instead of having to go through town, but that's when the bridge is open.
"It can add 10,15, 20 minutes to your response time when the bridge is closed," Mabie said. Gates were added in 2010 to Morgan Ford Road in order to close off the bridge when water from the river starts washing over it.
"Since they put those gates up, it's the best decision the county has made-bar none," he said.
Patrick Farris, Executive Director of the Warren Heritage Society said he would normally side with preservation efforts, but this project presented different complications.
"A simple rehabilitation wouldn't eliminate the safety hazards," he said. "You could never build this bridge today, it's out of code."
Farris has seen several correspondences and reports between VDOT and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
He said that VDOT went through eight alternatives for the bridge, but none would fully address issue.
"I love the scenic nature of the bridge, but when it comes an infrastructure that is used by the public, it's a much more difficult question to answer as to whether or not to replace or to preserve a resource, because there are safety hazards that need to be taken into consideration," Farris said. "If VDOT says it can't just be rehabilitated to address those safety concerns, then it's worth it."