Board of Supervisors
has directed the Virginia Department of Transportation to begin pursuing the necessary paperwork required to begin removal of a bridge that runs through the Advance Mills Historic District. That would allow VDOT to continue planning for a temporary replacement for the bridge on Route 743 over the North Fork of the Rivanna River, while concurrently working with consultants to design and build a permanent replacement. The Board took no formal action on what course of action to take, but is expected to do so at its next meeting in August.
Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo
Listen using player above or download the podcast:
VDOT closed the bridge in May after finding extensive damage to its steel supports. In June, VDOT officials told the Board that the Advance Mill Bridge would need to be permanently closed, and offered solutions for a temporary bridge, which would require at least $400,000 in county funds. Before the Board’s July meeting, county staff wrote a report recommending the Board defer construction of a temporary bridge in favor of a permanent structure.
In 1999, the Board passed a resolution stating that the bridge “should be maintained so that it retains its historic significance” and in 2000, the bridge was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Chief of Planning David Benish said staff did not recommend a temporary bridge because such an action would be inconsistent with the 1999 decision. Additionally, funds for a temporary bridge would likely not go towards a permanent bridge. Heavy fire and rescue vehicles would not be able to cross the temporary bridge, and areas cut off by the bridge could be supported by other firehouses. Staff wrote that would keep the response time under recommended guidelines.
Alan Sumpter of VDOT told the Board that a permanent bridge could not be constructed until 2010 at the earliest, while a temporary bridge could be ready by “the beginning of the calendar year” if the Board takes action.
Paul Newland of the Advance Mills’ Village Homeowners’ Association told the Board he felt the historic district only covered a couple of homes that represent the turn of the 20th century, and that the dam and the country store are now missing. “The bridge which is under discussion today is an all-metal twentieth century Pratt truss bridge, and was never part of the original community,” he said.
Other speakers from the community were concerned the detours suggested by County staff are unsafe and unsatisfactory. Area resident Robert Overstreet said driving along c in the rain was extremely hazardous, and wondered if Albemarle County has abandoned the area. “Why are we not reaping some of the benefits of the funds from our tax dollars? My family enjoys rural life, but not at the expense of the family’s safety?”
George Ackerman lives on the north side of the bridge, and said two recent family medical emergencies were made worse due to long response times. Pastor Jay Sanderford of the Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church says the bridge closure has reduced the size of his congregation, and that many of his elderly parishioners can’t drive the drives. Al Dougherty lives north of the 743 bridge, and says a temporary bridge shouldn’t have to be a short-term solution, and could instead be a 20-year bridge. Mimi Tornrose also lives north of the bridge, and said that if she and her fellow residents do have to wait until 2011 for a permanent bridge, the detours should be paved and receive extra maintenance from VDOT.
But, several speakers spoke out against the idea of a temporary bridge. Stephen Meeks said the bridge is one of several “contributing structures” that led to the awarding of the historic district status for Advance Mills Village in 1999. “If the Board supports a temporary structure, additional efforts and time should be looked at the permanent solution to see how that would affect the integrity of the district so that everything is not lost.”
Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council took issue with Newland’s comment that the bridge had no historical significance. “This was not a historic district that was thrust upon these landowners unwillingly,” he said, and added that the County’s comprehensive plan puts a high priority on respecting historic sites. Palmer Burch lives in the historic district and said he’s part of a rapidly growing coalition of residents seeking to protect and restore the cultural assets at Advance Mills. “Isolation, fear mongering, convenience and expediency should play no role in a thoughtful and deliberative discussion of the preservation and restoration of our nationally recognized historic district and its irreplaceable historic truss bridge.”
Sumpter said VDOT have been designing various alternatives for where a permanent bridge will be located, because that project is in the VDOT six-year plan for secondary road construction. Two main alternatives exist – one would align the bridge along the existing Route 743 through the historic district (Alternate C), and the other would take the bridge on a northern (Alternate A) route, where it would reconnect with Route 743.
Sumpter said building the temporary bridge would be a disruptive process. “We would go in and we would remove the existing bridge, and then we would put the temporary bridge back in its place,” he said. “The temporary bridge would sit on the existing abutments and piers that are there, and it would be able to serve the traveling public until such time that the permanent bridge would be built.” But, if the permanent bridge is built along the existing bridge, there will still be another 12 to 18 month period during which it will be shut down again.
(Rio District) asked if there was a way to build the temporary structure to last for more than the two to four years. Sumpter responded that regulatory bodies at both the federal and state level would not see it that way. Supervisor
(Jack Jouett District) asked if there was a way to expedite the process of building a permanent replacement. Sumpter said the quickest scenario would involve building the bridge along the existing alignment, but a permanent solution will involve studies and at least two public hearings, and construction work will also be contracted out.
The temporary bridge is exempt from many of the environmental permits that will be necessary because it will not disrupt aquatic life in the Rivanna River. Chief Planner David Benish said he needs more information on whether the Department of Historic Resources needs to be consulted when building the temporary bridge. Sumpter said VDOT would be willing to pay for the whole cost of the temporary bridge, but would seek to get repaid by Albemarle County.
(Samuel Miller District) said the discussion did not leave her with a clear idea of how the Board should proceed. When Sumpter began outlining possible timelines, Supervisor Slutzky interrupted and asked for a list of options and timelines to be presented at the next meeting of the Board. That prompted Rooker to warn “Every month we do this, it’s another month that whatever solution there is is being put off.” Sumpter said VDOT will continue to move forward with planning for both the temporary and permanent bridge.