A tough spot

Published 11:19 am Friday, February 22, 2013

Hardly anyone denies that the bridge spanning the Nottoway River on Meherrin Road in Courtland is in dire need of major upgrades.

In fact, it is in such disrepair that the Virginia Department of Transportation has recommended it be rebuilt.

Of the few options available, the most cost-effective plan would be over $11 million. The good news is that federal funds have been earmarked for the project. The bad news is it would require closing the bridge, with no alternate overpass, for 12 to 16 months.

It is impossible to deny the negative impact this would have on Courtland businesses and emergency services. Many businesses in Courtland, who survive on customers from that part of the county, would lose significant business even with the detour.

When shoppers are diverted from their usual destination — such as downtown Franklin after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — they often develop new habits and never return to their old ones.

Yet few alternatives are available. One option would be to divert funds from another project to speed up the process, but that would still result in a closure of about 12 months and drive up the cost. The other would be to construct a temporary crossing adjacent to the existing bridge, which would cost significantly more and require an environmental impact study. The impact study could take nearly two years and the delay could result in the loss of funding.

Should that occur, the real possibility exists that the bridge could be shut down for safety reasons with no funding to replace it.

Many in Courtland, and others who support the local business community, have been vocal in their opposition to the bridges closure. And rightfully so. County leaders also worry about the long-term implications of the bridge closing for safety reasons and not having the funds to replace it. Another valid concern.

The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing on Monday to get input from the community. They’re bound to get an earful.