NS Recommends Repairing Bluefield Bridge

Norfolk Southern has told city officials in Bluefield, West Virginia, that repairing a closed bridge is the most feasible solution to restoring access to the city’s downtown area.

Bluefield had threatened to sue NS over its closure of the bridge in June 2019, saying the railroad failed to live up to its obligation to keep the structure in a state of good repair.

In the wake of that threat, NS officials revived talks with the city about the bridge, which links downtown with the North Side and East End neighborhoods.

The Class 1 railroad recently told the city in a letter that NS it would be willing to discuss other alternatives to repairing the Grant Street Bridge.

However, NS said its financial obligations will be capped at the limit of its maintenance obligations under a 1940 agreement between the railroad and city.

The letter from NS Assistant Vice President Government Relations Darrell Wilson said the railroad is willing to help pay to maintain the bridge. He did not say in his letter how much it would cost to repair the bridge, which was built in 1941.

But a preliminary estimate made in September 2019 put the cost at between $1.5 million and $2 million. Replacement of the bridge was estimated to cost at least $6 million .

NS closed the bridge after a state inspection declared it to be unsafe.

The 80-year-old agreement between NS and the city states the bridge superstructure support is the responsibility of the railroad while the city is responsible for road service work on top.

Wilson said the NS engineering department considered two other alternatives, including demolishing the existing structure and constructing a new bridge; or extending existing public streets to link Wayne Street and Roanoke or Hardy Streets via a newly constructed public road.”

 “After considerable analysis, it is clear that alternatives beyond the scope of rehabilitating the existing structure would require substantially longer development times,” Wilson wrote.

 “We also note that Norfolk Southern has no contractual obligations under the 1940 maintenance agreement to build a new bridge or to construct additional access roads for the City.”

His letter said NS officials understand the frustration of city residents over the bridge closure and that the railroad seeks to get the bridge reopened as soon as possible.

Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin said working with NS will be the key to getting the bridge issue resolved as opposed to going to court.

“While we cannot guarantee a successful end to these negotiations, we believe that they have approached us in good faith,” he said.

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