Advance Mills Village residents saw the writing on the wall well before the rest of us viewed any images of last month’s bridge collapse in Minnesota.  Since the indefinite closure of the bridge several months ago, citizens in Northern Albemarle have lobbied for its safe and timely re-opening.  Several VDOT staff members were present at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting on September 5, 2007, to present updates about the safety of Albemarle County bridges and, more specifically, the status of the Advance Mills bridge.


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In August, the Board voted to give VDOT the go-ahead to install a temporary bridge on the site of the current bridge, on the condition that the Department look at a couple of alternatives parallel to the existing location.  Allen Sumpter, VDOT’s Charlottesville Residency Administrator, reported that over the past month the agency has spent field time surveying and collecting data at the bridge site.

“We are going to proceed with installing the temporary bridge in the existing bridge’s location,” Sumpter said. Construction on the temporary bridge is expected to begin in about six months.

Locating a temporary bridge anywhere other than the existing location would require administrative processes, including a lengthy archaeological survey.  This review could potentially increase the project’s time frame by six to twelve months, and could add as much as $200,000 to the project’s cost.  While various environmental processes are necessary regardless of location , the investigation of the environmental impacts of placing the temporary bridge in a new location would also bring about a hike in time frame and project cost, not to mention the potential for further environmental degradation.

A formal process is also getting underway to prepare for the permanent solution.  VDOT has set a citizen information meeting for October 11th, from 5-7pm, at Spring Hill Baptist Church.  The public will have a chance to weigh in on three proposed alignments for the new bridge.  After the hearing, VDOT plans to evaluate those public comments and present their findings to the Board, in order to decide which alignment will be best for the permanent bridge.  They hope to have a design public hearing in spring 2008, and, if everything moves along according to schedule, they anticipate starting construction of a permanent bridge in 2010 or 2011.

Of course, it is precisely this issue of scheduling that concerns the residents of Advance Mills.  They feel that timeliness is what the project has lacked the most.  Alan Kindrick, a long-time resident of the area, thanked the Board of Supervisors “for the efforts you’ve put into trying to re-equip us with a bridge which we should have never lost, had VDOT properly controlled the situation…I’ve lived there within a mile of that bridge for the last 40 years, and I know it’s missed.”

Paul Newland, Board Member of the Advance Mills Village Homeowners Association said the bridge replacement process was slower than necessary.  “What you have here is disjointed incrementalism.  We’re taking three steps forward and two steps back. The Board means well, and they’re sincere, but it’s sincerity within a context of governmental gridlock.”

The Homeowners Association is now sending regular mailings to the 550 households that signed a petition in support of the installation of a temporary bridge.  To continue these efforts, the association recently unveiled a new website,

www.advancemills.org

.

The neighborhood residents are not alone in posing questions to VDOT regarding their approach to the bridge replacement.  Supervisor David Slutzky asked twice about the possibility of creating a temporary structure that was sufficient to last forty or fifty years, wondering if “it might function as a permanent bridge solution, freeing up a couple million dollars from this replacement bridge project for other infrastructure we need in the county.”

VDOT officials remained steadfast in their recommendation that the Advance Mills temporary bridge stay just that: temporary.  They were uncomfortable with the notion of stretching out its lifespan to forty or fifty years because of the ongoing maintenance costs that would be incurred by the state.


BRIDGES OVER RAILROADS A CONCERN

VDOT officials also presented their sufficiency and condition ratings for the 432 bridges in the county.  VDOT reported that the 11 bridges owned by railroad companies had an average sufficiency rating of 29 out of 100 – which caused the Supervisors to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Supervisor Ken Boyd asked, “Are we letting these railroad bridges get to the point where they can be dangerous for our citizens, just because we can’t make the railroad do it?”

According to VDOT, state law prohibits them from spending maintenance money on bridges they don’t own; however, they are still required to inspect any and all bridges and, if the need arises, to close a structure due to safety risks.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker wasn’t entirely convinced by this reassurance, saying, “VDOT does turn its head in respect to the railroad bridges, because it prefers not to deal with them.”  Railroad bridges in the area that have received a lot of citizen attention over the last few years include: Jefferson Park Avenue in the City; Dry Bridge in Ivy; the Proffit bridge; and the Broomley Road bridge near Flordon.

Kendall Singleton

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