Clearance bars installed to protect bridge

An SUV travels under clearance bars with chains along Wissler Road on Old Valley Pike south of Mount Jackson on Tuesday. The state installed the apparatus on both ends of the Meems Bottom Covered Bridge last week to prevent tractor-trailer traffic from traveling through and damaging the bridge. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Meems Bottom Covered Bridge has one more level of protection while it will remain closed to commercial traffic.

Ed Carter, the Edinburg Residency administrator, said the Virginia Department of Transportation completed the installation of clearance bars with chains hanging down to alert commercial drivers to turn around.

“I got the notice last week that they had finally put them up,” Carter said.

The bars are the department’s solution to prevent commercial trucks from hitting the bridge.

One structure on the east side is placed close to U.S. 11, and the other on the west was installed just before reaching Interstate 81.

The state has installed various forms of signage, including this one that directs trucks to Industrial Park Road and discourages them from attempting to travel through the covered bridge and damage it. Rich Cooley/Daily

It was in April 2017 that former Edinburg Residency Administrator Cliff Balderson decided to close the road to protect the bridge and install two clearance bars with chains hanging down to alert drivers to turn around before they arrive at the bridge, Carter said.

He noted that the bridge had been hit at least six times in the last couple years, including twice since it was closed.

Balderson had previously said he wanted to have the bars installed by summer 2017.

Obtaining and installing the bars was delayed, first because of scheduling conflicts with contractors and then because of the frequent heavy rains, Carter said.

It has been mainly out-of-town commercial trucks that were striking the covered bridge as they tried to pass. Signs were installed closing the road to through traffic but it was never enforced for local residential traffic, Carter said. The signs in place warning truck drivers of size limitations had not been working to keep trucks from crossing the covered bridge.

“A lot of it is drivers following GPS, not road signs,” Carter said.

Carter said they had worked with GPS to alter the route, but the problem is that drivers do not update their GPS units and are therefore using units with old maps.

Commerical drivers should not be traveling over the bridge anyway, he said.

“The bridge was not made for commercial traffic,” Carter said.