The span near Amissville has been closed since 2013
For the past two years, Frank Bossio, Culpeper County’s former county administrator and Fauquier County resident, has looked at the temporary detour signs that direct him away from the closed historic Waterloo Bridge he travelled across several times a week for 22 years. Bossio crossed the bridge from his home a quarter mile away to Culpeper for work. Now, he ponders if the signs are really temporary.
“They do look permanent, if they put a few rocks around it,” said Bossio, with a broad grin.
The Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) is asking similar questions as little seems to have been accomplished to rehabilitate the bridge, one of about a dozen metal truss bridges left in Virginia. The bridge, which before closure carried 680 vehicles per day across the Rappahannock River, is owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
On Jan. 14, 2013, VDOT announced the bridge’s closure the following day because it was deemed unsafe due to significant deterioration. The wrought iron bridge was constructed in 1878. Before closure, the bridge had a three-ton weight limit for vehicles.
“Despite that restriction and numerous repairs through the years, advancing age and weather took their toll on the bridge’s supporting members,” said a 2013 VDOT news release.
Since the closure PEC has taken up the gauntlet to rally support and have VDOT and Culpeper and Fauquier County officials work toward a plan that would preserve the historic structure and reopen it to traffic, eliminating the detour.
“It was a grassroots thing,” said PEC Fauquier County Field Officer Julie Bolthouse about how PEC became involved. “We are losing these bridges very fast.”
A Facebook page was setup to save the bridge.
“It just exploded with 2,000 followers,” she said.
A petition on PEC’s website was setup to save the Waterloo Bridge through rehabilitation. By the end of last week they had 1,016 “unique” signatures.
“I think people do care about it,” said Bolthouse. “It’s the oldest metal truss bridge under VDOT’s purview.”
Bolthouse had an epiphany about how the community cares about the bridge. One day, she took postcards to the post office for mailing. The postcards carried a photo of the historic 138-year-old bridge on the front.
“I used to go fishing there when I was a kid,” said the postal clerk, who reminisced about the historic bridge, as he took the cards.
Perceived inaction by VDOT and the counties involved the past two years has PEC worried that the bridge will deteriorate beyond repair. So the PEC took action.
“We hired a consultant who said the bridge was in fabulous condition compared to other metal truss bridges,” said Bolthouse.
She noted that another less historic metal bridge in the area and in worse shape remains open to traffic.
PEC’s consultant estimated that it would cost $1.8 million to rehabilitate the bridge. That figure includes $277,000 for engineering and $138,000 in contingencies.
However, VDOT conducted its own cost analysis for several options, recognizing the historic nature of the bridge and the community’s appreciation of it, according to VDOT Acting Communications Manager Stacy Londrey.
“We commissioned the study in late 2014 to evaluate rehabilitation options for full vehicular traffic use and for pedestrian/bicycle use only,” Londrey wrote in an email. “A replacement option was also analyzed.”
The study’s purpose was to help the two counties on the best “course of action for the bridge.”
VDOT’s study estimated that it would cost about $4.3 million to $4.7 million to rehabilitate the bridge to handle five-ton up to 26-ton capacity vehicular traffic. VDOT estimates it would cost about $6.1 million to replace the bridge.
After conducting its study and evaluating PEC’s analysis, VDOT placed a “project status” on its website.
“The results of that analysis, coupled with local support, lead us to agree that preserving the historic character of the bridge is an achievable goal,” according to the VDOT website.
Bolthouse noted that VDOT estimated it would cost $3.7 million to rehabilitate the bridge solely for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, which some believe would have limited use.
The disparity in costs between the VDOT’s analysis and PEC’s consultant report are noted in so-called “soft costs.”
“Based on our analysis, VDOT believes the cost for rehabilitation is higher than PEC’s figure of $1.8 million,” wrote Londrey. “Our estimate is $4.3 million.”
According to Bolthouse, VDOT estimates $2.7 million in engineering, right-of-way acquisition and other costs, along with its estimated construction cost of $1.65 million. PEC estimates about $1.1 million for rehabilitation and $700,000 in engineering costs.
“I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” said Bolthouse.
Revenue sharing a possible solution
In an April 7, 2015, memo, Fauquier County Administrator Paul McCulla noted that a teleconference had been held in March between county officials, PEC and Volkert Engineering.
“It became apparent that while the estimated construction costs are in line with each other, the soft costs are not,” McCulla wrote. “After much discussion and review, it was determined that the PEC engineering firm had not included many of the inspection and administrative costs that VDOT requires in its contracts.”
McCulla wrote that PEC’s engineering firm was unaware of those costs since many states don’t include them. He did note that the group felt VDOT’s administrative costs appeared high but an appropriate figure to use.
In the memo, McCulla mentioned revenue sharing as an option for Fauquier County to finance the bridge’s rehabilitation in partnership with VDOT and Culpeper County.
“It would appear that the counties must now determine whether they are willing to go forward on this project,” wrote McCulla, noting that each county would need to fund about $1 million of the cost.
Revenue sharing would have each county pay one-quarter of the cost, with VDOT funding the remainder. If rehabilitated, VDOT would be responsible for maintaining the bridge.
VDOT notes that the bridge is classified as “structurally deficient,” meaning the condition of the bridge requires maintenance.
Londrey noted that rehabbing might remove the deficient label but there are no guarantees until the condition of all the bridge’s members are checked during construction.
“The bridge is rated on the condition of its weakest member,” according to Londrey. “VDOT actively works to remove our bridges from the structurally deficient list, so there would be substantial risk in undertaking this project and having that label remain.”
Structurally deficient doesn’t mean unsafe, and rehabilitation would bring the bridge back into operation, with a definite weight restriction.
VDOT suggested revenue sharing with the counties, as it does not have funding alone to rehabilitate the bridge
Interim Culpeper County Administrator John Egertson, who recognizes the historic value of the bridge, agreed that revenue sharing may be the fastest approach to rehabilitate the bridge.
“We all could collaborate with revenue sharing,” said Egertson.
PEC wants to get all the interested parties in the same room and talking.
VDOT’s Londrey said a meeting with interested parties is planned for later this month.
“The longer we wait, the more it deteriorates,” said Bolthouse.
PEC is holding a bridge update informational meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 1 at the Orlean Volunteer Fire Department at 6838 Leeds Manor Road. The public is invited
VDOT estimates it could cost about $350,000 to demolish the bridge.
When would that be necessary?
“The bridge would have to be removed if it is found to pose a safety or environmental hazard,” Londrey wrote.
Egertson said Culpeper County is looking at possible rehabilitation.
“We have made some progress but it’s been slow,” said Egertson.
Waterloo Bridge Meeting
What: Public informational update meeting about rehabilitation of the Waterloo Bridge
Who: Hosted by the Piedmont Environmental Council
When: 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 1
Where: Orlean Volunteer Fire Department, 6838 Leeds Manor Rd,, Orlean
Contact: Julie Bolthouse, Fauquier County Field Officer
Phone: 540-347-2334 ext. 7042