The century-old footings that support the old, one-lane Route 600 Gunston Cove Road bridge have washed out or deteriorated, but confusion over ownership — and a potential historic designation — is delaying any repairs or demolition.
The bridge, which crosses two railroad lines, closed in 2004, and Fairfax County authorities have recommended demolition. CSX Corporation and the Virginia Department of Transportation both have some history with the bridge.
Virginia State Delegate Dave Albo described the situation well on his blog:
"Gunston Cove Bridge was washed out during Hurricane Isabel. I personally inspected the bridge and found the footers to be sitting on an eroded hill. The guard rails were so weak that I could push them over with my hand. There is no doubt that the bridge needed to be closed. Following that, VDOT looked at repairing it.
"What VDOT found was that the bridge is not owned by the state. It is owned by CSX railroad as part of a land/rail road purchase decades ago. Of course, CSX has no desire to spend the money to fix it. So if it is to be fixed, it would have to be transferred to VDOT. And VDOT does not want to take responsibility for it without knowing what they are getting into."
It would cost about $50,000 to tear the bridge down, versus $2.5 million to renovate it, and the commonwealth doesn't have the money to improve the bridge.
"CSX has agreed to tear the bridge down, but does not claim ownership," said Seyed A. Nabavi, a transportation planner for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
While neither CSX or VDOT claim ownership, VDOT has on occasion performed maintenance on the bridge. In 1995, a tractor-trailer crash sent a load of air conditioners crashing into the bridge, and it was repaired by VDOT, according to the Washington Post.
"The bridge was constructed by Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, which was absorbed by Norfolk & Western, which was then absorbed by CSX. Now, no one can find the records of who owns it," Clifton said.
The LHS is trying to have the bridge listed on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites. "What happens with that listing is that it does not protect the bridge, but whoever demolishes it must do thorough documentation including photographs and drawings so that the information on the bridge is preserved," said Clifton.
Representatives for VDOT and CSX did not return calls for comment.