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Warren County bridge placed on Preservation VA's endangered list

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The Morgan Ford low-water bridge on the Shenandoah River in Warren County is shown. A preservation group has placed the historic single-lane bridge on its endangered list. Rich Cooley/Daily file

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.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."


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."

If Preservation Virginia wants to stay in 1925 maybe they should not have a website. Are any of these folks actually residents of the area or are they just against anything that may get them a headline.

I live in the area and a new bridge is needed and one that actually can stay open when we get rain. A new bridge is not going to lead to unchecked development. This is Warren County we are talking about. How exactly is the current bridge stopping this development if it is going to happen?

Wow......what insight you have. Exactly what does your post have to do with anything I said. Maybe Preservation Virginia needs to move away however we know they are not here anyway correct? If you feel they have a point and want to keep in back the valley as it was back in the days are you Amish? Bet your @ss has a big SUV don't you? Way to preserve VA.

The same was said about improving 340 that it would take away from the beauty of the area but from what I see each day that I travel 340 to Front Royal is that it is much prettier drive. You can actually see the river and it's beauty and there are still plenty of trees left standing. Some people just aren't for "change" and we need to embrace it not fear it.

The bridge should be preserved through photography and documentation. Then it should be replaced.

Let's not forget why the gates were installed- a young woman was killed. Let's try to preserve the endangered among us.

I am sure that the new bridge would also help preserve and restore the river ecosystem, which is currently impeded by this obstruction.

This would also promote tourism and recreation (i.e. canoeing and fishing), which would certainly help increase awareness and appreciation of the area, including historical interest, thereby mitigating for the loss of the obsolete structure.

Is there a way to keep the low bridge as a scenic foot traffic only bridge and build a safer vehicle bridge next to it? That way it is a win-win situation. Even modify the "entrance" and "exit" of the low bridge so vehicles can not cross and maybe have a safety feature (similar to the gates) to keep people from walking on it when the weather proves unsafe...

I live near the bridge and my main concern is the possibility of increasing large truck traffic heading to and from the Kelly Industrial Park, DuPont, Torray, etc. The roads leading to and from the LWB are not built to accommodate tractor-trailer traffic (i.e. Milldale Rd, Rockland Rd, Red Gate Rd, Happy Creek Rd, Howellsville Rd. and the lower half of Fairground Rd) to the industrial areas. I'm hoping this is being considered in the VDOT planning.

I can certainly understand wanting to preserve the bridge and it's history. But as with everything else change is sometimes needed. I believe for 7.x million an engineering group could design something that will fit the bill. I enjoy the bridge and it takes me back but the only major reason I could see for a change is the improved response time for emergency vehicles. A 10-20 minute faster response is certainly a good reason. I know the bridge only closes due to high water, but can the pricetag of a life equate to a bridge? Higher traffic from trucks should not be a concern, it is not a truck route now, and that should remain in place. I do not believe it is a matter of staying in the past, I believe it is a matter of what is best for the community as a whole.
I also agree with Red, best of both worlds.

Leaving the existing bridge in place and building a new one would not address the specific concerns specified in the article:

"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"

If they were to build a new bridge slightly up or downstream from the existing, all of the impacts to the approach, landings, and community would still occur. Again, I support the bridge replacement, but do not support the "leave the existing bridge in place" idea because it would not satisfy the concerns of the historic preservation people, or improve hydraulic/recreational conditions of the river.

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