Damaged: New Locust bridge takes a hit

Just one month after it reopened following a five-month shut-down for repair, the brand new Locust Avenue Bridge has already been hit.

And even though this incident did not damage the support beams below the bridge, it still has area residents wondering why the bridge was rebuilt to the same specifications that left it vulnerable to serious damage from accidents in both 1992 and 1999.

"Insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting something different," says Locust Grove neighborhood resident Marianne McKernan, whose neighborhood has become a de facto detour between Locust Avenue and Park Street.

McKernan says it would be one thing if the bridges had been repaired in a way that would prevent future accidents. But "they didn't make it any taller, any wider, or any different," she fumes. "There is something really seriously wrong with this picture."

City engineer Tony Edwards says it's not as simple as just raising the height of the bridge.

"You'd have to raise the road," he explains, for several hundred feet on either side. That, in turn, would affect the grade in front of the houses along the street, requiring sidewalks to be replaced and causing drainage problems. Particularly on the low side of Locust Avenue, Edwards says, "It wouldn't be desirable."

He says the city is exploring the idea of putting up height warning signs along Route 250 before each bridge, but he acknowledges that there's nothing keeping either one from being hit– "It could be tomorrow, or it could be 100 years from now," he says. The cost of significant changes in bridge design, however, would be prohibitive.

As for the cost of the most recent damage to the Locust bridge, Edwards says it will be "relatively minor."

The recent accident happened in the wee hours of Sunday, August 24, as an 18-wheeler traveling west on Route 250 attempted a left turn from the ramp onto the bridge.

"Apparently they weren't reading the sign that says no trucks over two axles," says Edwards.

Apparently the driver also failed to read the law that says it's illegal to leave the scene of the accident: He disappeared following the incident, leaving chipped concrete posts on the bridge and ramp and a cracked railing along the ramp.

"We have a few leads," says Sergeant Ronnie Roberts of Charlottesville police, "but nothing has been solved."

Edwards says this hit-and-run damage is nowhere near as extreme as that from the 1999 accident in which the boom of an excavation machine carried on the back of an L.W. Critzer truck struck a beam beneath the bridge. (The same truck continued on that day and struck the Park Street Bridge as well.)

The City is consulting with a bridge contractor to get an estimate on the most recent damage, and though Edwards declines to venture a guess as to cost, he says the repair won't require the closure of the bridge, even for a day.

"If anything," he says, "it might be a temporary closure of that one lane on the ramp."

That's small consolation to Marianne McKernan, who says she hasn't had a good night's sleep in more than a month due to heavy traffic redirected past her home.

Of the bridge repairs, she says, "It's right up there with the $20,000 Christmas tree and the free speech board. The City is misappropriating my tax dollars."