Neighboring residents and park and trail users were unable to persuade Fairfax County officials not to tear down Gabrielson Bridge in Oakton on Sept. 4, but they’ve begun an effort to work jointly with the county to replace the span affordably.
County officials inspected the bridge two years ago after a local resident expressed safety concerns and found the span was in poor condition and unsafe. The county took possession of the bridge at the request of its absentee private owner and decided to remove the span, but not replace it. A contractor demolished and removed the bridge for an estimated $115,000.
In a Sept. 29 letter to the Board of Supervisors, co-chairs Rod Hines and Sheila Dunheimer of the Coalition to Replace the Gabrielson Bridge wrote that the bridge for more than 75 years had provided a dry, all-weather crossing of Difficult Run stream.
The former bridge was accessible from the east via the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Gabrielson Gardens Park and from the west via Flowerstone Street, a private road. The bridge over time became part of Hunters Valley Trail, which is depicted on the county’s current trail maps, Dunheimer and Hines wrote.
“Although the bridge was located within Sully District, its loss impacts citizens across the county,” their letter read.
The coalition is proposing a partnership between the county government and public to replace the bridge “quickly and efficiently,” they wrote.
Coalition members conducted a similar project in 2011 when they arranged for construction of a 32-foot-long bridge for pedestrians and equestrians that connected north and south neighborhoods within the Hunters Valley Association, Dunheimer and Hines wrote.
That project cost only $15,450, which was covered with $4,998 from a Neighborhood Enhancement Partnership Program grant and funding from the Hunters Valley Association.
Coalition member and architectural engineer Bret Busse provided pro bono help for that bridge’s engineering design, as well as project management and construction supervision, they wrote. The bridge took slightly more than a month to complete, with volunteers providing about 300 hours’ worth of labor.
Busse now is producing a conceptual design and building-materials budget for what would be a 60-foot-long bridge at the Gabrielson site. The coalition’s proposal might save the county about $300,000 in replacing the bridge, Dunheimer and Hines wrote.
Hunters Valley Association president Grant Sitta from 2010 through 2015 was Mason District’s appointee to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance Exception Review Committee and has much experience with Resource Protection Areas such as the one at the bridge site, they wrote.
Coalition members – who live in the Sully, Providence and Hunter Mill districts – are requesting that the Board of Supervisors retain ownership of the bridge site and meet with the coalition to hear its replacement proposal. The coalition also wants supervisors to endorse the project and an implementation plan, identify and authorize funding, and help the coalition gain the required zoning, site-planning and permitting approvals.
Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully), the eastern part of whose district encompasses the area in question, told the Sun Gazette Oct. 5 that she was not in a position to speak about the coalition’s proposal, but was taking steps toward a possible bridge replacement.
Smith recently met with county staff members who likely would be involved in such a project and asked them to obtain an initial engineering opinion about what needs to be done at the site. The cost of a bridge replacement and possible floodplain complications are among factors staff will evaluate, she said.
Smith said she hopes to hold a community meeting within the next month to get the public’s input.
“My goal is to get forward to a spot where we can replace the bridge, but we’re not there yet,” she said.
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