BLUEFIELD — How a closed bridge is impacting the neighborhoods it serves as well as the rest of the city and what could be done to address the problem is the goal of a study approved Tuesday by the Bluefield City Board of Directors.
The board of directors met by live stream, which was offered on Facebook, and unanimously approved a Grant Street Bridge Necessity Scope of Services study with the firm E.L. Robinson Engineering. The study will address what could be done to repair the Grant Street Bridge, which was closed in June 2019 due to structural concerns, but it will look at other ways to help the neighborhoods the bridge serves.
“It is more about connecting the East End and the North Side with the rest of the city,” City Attorney Colin Cline said later.
The study will collect the evidence that possible funding sources will want, and get community input about the bridge situation, Cline said, adding that the city was seeking “innovative ideas” about how to address the situation.
“There’s also roadwork issues and everything out at the North Side,” he said.
City Manager Dane Rideout said the study will look at the bridge’s socio-economic impact as well as its historic significance. The city has had talks with engineers at Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns the bridge, but they have been “non-committal.” The Grant Street Bridge is one piece failing infrastructure the railroad has across the nation, and it goes over one of the company’s busiest railroad lines. COVID-19 has been an issue for the railroad, too.
“We’re literally in a pickle here,” Rideout said after Tuesday’s meeting, adding that the city is trying to get a private company that has given its permission to use the bridge for years to work toward repairing it. City residents have been asking the city board to do something about the closure, but “that energy needs to be focused toward Norfolk Southern.”
Drafting the study will cost about $50,000, according to the E.L. Robinson outline. Rideout said other firms contacted about doing a study had estimates as high as $300,000.
The plan includes creating and distributing a community survey, doing door-to-door surveys and interviewing focus groups from the impacted parts of the city, according to the company’s proposal. Challenges will include finding ways to have focus group meetings during the pandemic, Rideout said.
“Now the hard, heavy-lifting work begins,” he said. “Now we’re going to get to the other particulars and fine tune it. We also have to figure out how we’re going to get these interactions with the public. If you’re watching ‘America’s Got Talent,’ their new audiences are those screens behind (the judges.)”
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