Covered bridge closed after second crash in a month

MOUNT JACKSON — Meem’s Bottom Covered Bridge is no stranger to damage, and for the second time in a month, a tractor trailer hit the historic landmark, forcing state officials to close it Tuesday.

Shenandoah County deputies were dispatched to the bridge on Friday for a reported hit and run, and, with the assistance of a citizen, were able to identify the driver of the truck as Oleksandr Guivan, 35, of Flowery Branch, Georgia, according to a post on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Officials charged Guivan with destruction of property, failure to obey highway signs and failure to report a crash. He was released on summons and is set to appear in court on May 26.

There have been other crashes at the bridge by truck drivers unfamiliar with the area who are using GPS systems to navigate and don’t get a notification that their trucks are too big for the bridge, said Maj. Scott Proctor, of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.

This happens periodically, Proctor said, even though there are multiple signs warning drivers of size limits for vehicles passing under the bridge roof, which was the cause of Friday’s accident. Vehicles are limited to 10 feet in height, 12 feet in width, and a weight of 13 tons. The damage was minor, between $500-$600, as was the damage from the collision earlier in the month, Proctor said, but the bridge still needs to be repaired every time it is hit.

Ken Slack, A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the bridge was closed Tuesday, and the date for its reopening is undetermined while the agency repairs the damage and evaluates options to protect the bridge in the future.

The 204-foot bridge has seen its fair share of damage over its 123-year history: vandals set fire to the bridge on Halloween 1976. It underwent a major reconstruction after workers were able to salvage the original timbers, and was open again in 1979.

In July 2014, a tractor trailer damaged the bridge roof while trying to fit under it, destroying 13 of the diagonal timbers supporting the roof and causing $15,000 in damage.

As a historic landmark, recent repairs must be carefully considered as some parts of the bridge are still there from its original 1892 construction.

Slack warned that, “If it gets too heavily damaged, we can’t replace it.”

He added, “We’re going to try to keep it from getting hit again.”

While the department isn’t exactly sure how it will prevent further truck damage to the  bridge, Slack said that they are exploring options like audio warnings and flashing lights when a passing truck exceeds the height, width and weight restrictions for oncoming vehicles.

Contact staff writer Briahnna Brown at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or bbrown@nvdaily.com