One of the biggest challenges facing city officials in Bluefield is figuring out how to correct the Grant Street Bridge situation. Specifically, the city must determine what can be done to repair or replace the bridge, which was closed in June 2019 due to structural concerns.
The city Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to approve the Grant Street Bridge Necessity Scope of Services study with the firm of E.L. Robinson Engineering. The study will take a detailed look at what can be done to repair the Grant Street Bridge. The bridge, which is owned by Norfolk Southern, crosses the company’s railroad tracks. It was closed in June 2019 after the state Department of Transportation inspected the structure and determined it was unsafe for use due to extensive deterioration.
The bridge in question connects the East End and North Side with Princeton Avenue and the downtown area. Residents impacted by the closing now have to use a very narrow road, which is hazardous and increases response time for emergency vehicles.
According to City Attorney Colin Cline, the study will collect the evidence that possible funding sources will need, while also soliciting community input about the bridge situation. He says the city is seeking “innovative ideas” about how to address the bridge situation.
City Manager Dane Rideout says the study will look at the bridge’s socio-economic impact as well as its historic significance. Rideout said the city has had talks with engineers at Norfolk Southern Railroad, but he says so far the railroad has been “non-committal” when it comes to repairing or replacing the bridge that it owns. The Grant Street Bridge extends over one of the company’s busiest railroad lines.
Drafting the study will cost about $50,000, according to the E.L. Robinson outline. Rideout said other firms contacted about doing the study had cost 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. However, the city is still trying to figure out how to safely hold focus group meetings during the pandemic, Rideout said.
Just like everything else, the pandemic has slowed efforts to address the bridge situation. In fact, city hall is still closed to the public, along with the monthly city board meetings, which are still being held virtually at this time.
Getting the necessity scope of services study underway is an important step in the search for answers to the Grant Street Bridge dilemma. All involved parties, including the railroad and those citizens affected by the bridge closure, should be actively included in this study and the search for solutions.
The city also should make every effort possible to accommodate those affected families until the bridge is fixed or a feasible solution is found.