Crews began the effort to repair the bridge last Thursday, though after a few days of work, Norfolk Southern stepped in and put the project to a temporary halt. The railroad requires that all contractors working on or above railroad crossings to have a unique kind of insurance.
Assistant City Manager Tim Grizzard said he anticipates the necessary paperwork to be in hand Monday. If not, Grizzard said, the city will temporarily reopen the bridge until everything is in order to proceed with the repairs.
“I’m certainly not faulting the railroad, but they’re a complicated entity to deal with,” Grizzard said. “I had hoped to be a week and a half into the work, but as it stands, there’s just one more piece of paperwork.”
Once under way, the work should last about two months, though the time frame is dependent on cooperative weather.
The total cost of the project to the city comes in at approximately $200,000, an amount that pales in comparison to the $1 million the city would have to spend to install a completely new bridge. In addition, Grizzard said, there have been a number of new regulations about railroad bridges that have been put on the books since the existing bridge was built. A new bridge would have to be raised several feet further above the rail lines than the current bridge, which would in turn require city crews to adjust the road embankment leading up to the bridge on both sides.
Overall, what started as a $1 million project could turn into something much more costly.
The weight limit on the bridge was lowered from 8 tons to 6 tons several years ago, and when posted signs didn’t deter larger vehicles from crossing the span, bars were added to limit bridge traffic to vehicles shorter than 8 feet.
Grizzard said that as part of the work, trusses supporting the structure will need to be adjusted as they have settled over time. In addition, some of the wood is rotted and will need to be replaced, including the surface decking, which will be increased in thickness from 4 to 8 inches.
Crews will also add a pedestrian walkway across the bridge.
Grizzard said that while the bridge requires work, it is structurally sound and doesn’t pose an immediate threat to motorists.
“The amazing thing about wooden bridges is that they last a long time,” he said. “A wooden bridge is almost always repairable, and it’s just time to make some repairs to it.”
Not only will the repairs help preserve the bridge’s structural integrity for years to come, but it will also help restore a city landmark, dating back in its original form to the 1870s.
According to Gwyn Chesnut of the Carroll County Historical Society, the first train from Whitesburg to Carrollton arrived in 1874, bringing with it conductor David William Croft. Croft and his family lived at that time on what is modern-day Croft Street, and as the story goes, Chesnut said, he built the bridge to ensure his children could walk to church without having to cross what were then very busy railroad tracks.
Croft bought the land upon which the bridge stands for $65, a total which translates into just over $1,200 in today’s money.