Supporters, foes speak on proposed bridge project

Support for plans to replace the troubled Morgans Ford Bridge in Warren County far outweighs the opposition, judging by comments submitted to the state.

The Virginia Department of Transportation proposes to replace the single-lane, low-water bridge on Morgans Ford Road over the Shenandoah River with a higher, wider crossing. VDOT cites the deteriorating condition of the bridge, its tendency to flood over and other safety concerns as reasons to replace the span. Opponents say the bridge as designed will affect historic and recreational amenities as well as the viewshed and would lead to increased traffic.

VDOT held the required public hearing on the design Feb. 4 at the North Warren Volunteer Fire Department station. At least a dozen VDOT representatives were on hand to talk about the project and show designs. Visitors could submit comments in writing or have them recorded. VDOT also gave the public 10 days to submit comments in writing.

VDOT received almost 250 comments in writing or recorded at the hearing or sent by mail. VDOT provided copies of the comments to the Northern Virginia Daily. Many people submitted comments — for or against — without names. VDOT did not require people provide their names. Of the comments submitted, at least 180 were in support of replacing the bridge using VDOT’s proposed design. More than a dozen of the supporters work for Warren County, many of whom live in the county.

But almost 40 people said they opposed plans to replace the bridge. Many voiced support for an alternative, scaled-back design submitted to VDOT by the Piedmont Environmental Council. Many of the opponents live outside Warren County, though some of the supporters also reside elsewhere.

The hearing itself came under fire by opponents of the project who claimed the event did not let people speak as in typical public hearings held by governing bodies. VDOT officials have said that the agency has used the arrangement for 20 years.

A selection of the comments:

Kenneth Garrett, of Broad Run, states that the existing bridge — an historic structure — should be saved, that the archaeology of the area contains materials from the earliest people on the continent and free, African American communities from the 19th century. Garrett urged VDOT to allow professional archaeologists to study the site before moving forward on the project. Garrett notes the bridge has been an important river crossing for 13,000 years.

R.L. Stinson, of Front Royal, states: “Public safety (police, fire, rescue) trumps all else! Buil[d] it!”

Charles McIntosh, of Front Royal, supported an alternative, scaled-back design recommended by the Piedmont Environmental Council.

“I do not favor the VDOT plan as it will destroy the form and character of this historic site,” McIntosh states.

In response to a question asking if VDOT representatives were able to answer his questions, McIntosh states, “They were knowledgeable about the project but out of touch with what the landowners on this road want.”

Bret Bement urged VDOT to conduct more geographical studies of the project area to ensure the agency doesn’t build the bridge on a fracture in the Karst topography.

Front Royal resident Dan Johnson states he supports the project though he would add a bicycle-pedestrian lane to the design.

Jessica Barr died at the bridge when the river flooded the area almost five years ago. Barr’s mother Tammy Barr and grandmother Shirley Wood also submitted comments in support of replacing the bridge. Wood states, “please save someone else from heartache.”

Jim Fitzgerald, of Marshall, states, “Leave it the way it is! We don’t need a highway over the river.”

Rockland area resident Malcolm Barr opposes the bridge project. In a lengthy statement, Barr criticizes the Board of Supervisors and questions members who blamed the bridge for causing several fatal vehicle crashes. He states that law enforcement reports cite alcohol and speed as factors in one crash; flooding and GPS directions in another. Barr also claims the board did nothing about the issue of bridge flooding until a driver died.

Barbara Frank, of Milldale Road, Front Royal, criticized VDOT’s handling of the public hearing, stating that speaking into a microphone is not the same as talking in a forum setting. Wayne Chatfield-Taylor states, “we demand a proper public hearing where the citizens can speak and be heard, not an ‘informal’ … presentation.”

A court reporter recorded oral statements from 15 people, a few of whom also submitted comments in writing. Rockland Road resident James Harper criticized VDOT for the number of representatives in attendance at the hearing. Harper did not state if he supported or opposed the project.

Georgia Herbert, of The Plains, said she felt “appalled by VDOT’s behavior on this project and its refusal to accept” alternative designs. James Kilby voiced concerns about the project’s impact on African American history in the area and suggested VDOT make sure any artifacts from the Smoketown site are preserved.

More comments

Download a PDF of the comments received by VDOT at http://tinyurl.com/opzwnuu

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com