Shenandoah County supervisors rekindled discussions regarding the Black Bear Crossing bridge during Tuesday’s regular meeting as county leaders continue to ponder ways to address homeowners’ concerns about the structure.
The privately owned bridge, which crosses the Shenandoah River’s North Fork and serves as the lone access point for the Black Bear Crossing subdivision just east of Maurertown, is prone to frequent flooding and has long been a hot topic for neighborhood property owners who want the county’s help in funding a replacement.
In January, supervisors shot down the community’s request to establish a sanitary district that would allow the neighborhood to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation for such a project. A few supervisors at the time expressed concern over language in a petition filed by property owners that seemed to obligate the county to cover 75% of the cost of a new bridge if VDOT opted not to help pay for the project.
In revisiting the topic on Tuesday, District 4 Supervisor Karl Roulston noted that both sides have “hit a wall” in the sanitary district discussions, the largest obstacle being that though property owners offered a rudimentary estimate of $3.1 to $3.5 million to replace the bridge as part of its original petition, the county doesn’t have what it feels is an accurate estimate of the potential project.
Roulston said that without knowing what the cost of a new bridge would be, both the county and Black Bear property owners are hesitant to progress further into the quest for a sanitary district.
Discussions among supervisors on Tuesday centered around the possibility of conducting a hydraulic study on the bridge that would provide an accurate answer to the cost question. The issue, Roulston noted, is that such a study would likely cost somewhere between $29,000 and $45,000 based on phone conversations County Administrator Evan Vass has had with three private engineering firms.
“The discussion is, is the county willing to spend money to do that (hydraulic) study?” said Roulston, who noted that if the study is conducted, a sanitary district is created and a bridge is built, the county could potentially recoup the cost of the hydro study. If the project progresses no further than the hydraulic study, he added, the county doesn’t get that money back, though it would know what a replacement bridge would cost in the future.
Vass told supervisors that VDOT has indicated it wouldn’t help fund a hydraulic study of the bridge, saying that the department’s revenue-sharing program is typically applied to construction projects and not for studies performed as a precursor to those projects. Ed Carter, the administrator of VDOT’s Edinburg residency, backed up Vass’ comments.
Supervisor Tim Taylor brought up the notion of asking the Black Bear homeowners association if the subdivision’s property owners would be willing to pay for 25-50% of the study, which Roulston said he was on board with.
Supervisor Brad Pollack also mentioned a newly built public bridge located on Headley Road just upstream from the Black Bear bridge and the possibility of using that as an alternate route into the Black Bear community. He said doing so would be a cheaper alternative to building a “$4-to-5 million” bridge.
Though Vass noted that past discussions about an alternate route had raised concerns about the topography of the area being unsuitable for a new roadway, a couple of supervisors expressed support of opening a dialogue with the property owner of a farm that the Headley Road bridge services to gauge the potential of obtaining an easement or right-of-way if the county wanted to use that land for an alternate route to Black Bear Crossing.
“It would be wonderful if (Black Bear residents) could use it,” Roulston said of the Headley Road bridge, “because some of the discussion as well was even building a bridge there at Black Bear, you probably can’t build it high enough to say it’s never gonna flood because you don’t have the real estate on either side to run up the bridge and run off it. It’s vexing.”
Building a new public bridge to the Black Bear community would also mean the adjoining road would need to be brought into VDOT’s public system up to the first intersection in the subdivision and would require that portion be brought up to the state’s standards for secondary roads, Carter said. That would add to the cost of the bridge project, though Carter said VDOT could “pretty much tie down what it takes to get the roadway to standard to the bridge and on the other side of the bridge.”
“Compared to the cost of the bridge, it’s not that significant,” he added.