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A woman arrived at a campaign event with chunks of concrete she said fell off an interstate bridge near her home in Pulaski County.
MIKE GANGLOFF | The Roanoke Times
Pulaski County resident Barbara Conner holds a chunk of concrete that she says fell off interstate bridge into her driveway. This is same bridge that shed a piece of concrete that injured a woman on Claytor Lake recently.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
RADFORD — Decaying bridges entered the 7th District House of Delegates race Monday as Democratic challenger Michael Abraham said the region needs a representative more willing to push for transportation funding.
At a campaign event, Abraham introduced Barbara Conner, a Pulaski County resident who carried chunks of concrete that she said fell onto her driveway from the same interstate bridge that injured a woman last month when falling debris hit her while she was riding on a personal watercraft.
Conner, who said she’s backing Abraham in the race to represent Floyd County and parts of Pulaski and Montgomery counties in the state House, said she brought the concrete to show the maintenance needs that those such as incumbent Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, had not addressed. The bridge has been shedding concrete for about two years, and she and other neighbors had tried without success to get Rush and other state and local officials to do something, Conner said.
“It’s a hazard. I hate that it’s going to take some sort of tragedy to get someone to do something about it,” Conner said.
Conner’s driveway runs beneath the Interstate 81 bridges across Peak Creek. On Aug. 24, Victoria Michelle Gross, 23, of Richlands was injured while boating beneath the bridge that carries the southbound lanes of I-81 across Peak Creek, apparently by a chunk of debris that fell from the structure. Gross was hospitalized and released.
Speaking Monday next to the Interstate 81 bridges across the New River at Radford — well north of the Peak Creek bridges, Conner, Abraham and state Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, criticized Rush’s opposition to the transportation funding package that the General Assembly passed last spring. That money is helping counter years of insufficient maintenance to roads and bridges, they said.
“I hate to be flippant, but he apparently doesn’t believe in gravity” and its inevitable effect on structures like bridges, Abraham said of Rush’s opposition to the spending package.
“When I was growing up, we built the interstate system … and today we can’t seem to find enough money to maintain it,” Abraham said. If elected, he would vote to direct more money to transportation needs, he said.
Rush replied in a statement emailed later Monday, saying his vote against the transportation funding package was “a vote against raising the sales tax, the personal property tax, the car tax and the tax on diesel fuel.”
“I stand by this vote because I know families in the New River Valley can’t afford to have more of their hard-earned money taken out of their pockets in these tough economic times,” Rush wrote.
Even though the plan was championed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rush said he had to oppose it because “my entire life as a public servant has been guided by putting people before politics.”
But Abraham, of Blacksburg, said transportation was a vital part of economic recovery.
“No other single issue has as great an impact on our ability to attract economic development and jobs,” Abraham said.
Looking at the I-81 bridges behind him, Abraham said, “We can all imagine the economic development disruption if either of these bridges ever failed.”
Edwards added, “You can see the kind of stress trucks are making on the interstate” and the need for increased maintenance.
The transportation package that Rush opposed will bring passenger rail service to Roanoke, and the next step will be to extend it to Christiansburg and Radford, Edwards said.
“We need a delegate who will fight for Amtrak,” Edwards said.
Conner said the Peak Creek bridges have been shedding concrete for about two years. She showed printouts of emails she has been sending to county and state officials since August 2011 to ask that something be done about mudslides across her driveway triggered by runoff from the interstate bridges, and to warn that traffic noise and vibration from the bridges had increased.
Rush was among the officials that Conner contacted about the bridge situation, although it was not obvious from documents provided to The Roanoke Times on Monday if she told him about the falling concrete as well as the runoff and mud.
In a June 2013 email to an official at the Infrastructure Corporation of America, which handles road maintenance for the state’s Salem District, Conner said that bridge runoff continued to carry mud and rocks across her driveway. The email also went to state officials, including Rush and Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner of Highways Gregory Whirley.
“By the way, the vibration, thumps, and noise from the bridge continue, rattling windows and causing things to fall off of walls at times. But this is a different problem that probably isn’t under your purview,” Conner wrote.
Jamie Smith of the Virginia highway department wrote in an email Monday that to her knowledge, a complete report on Gross’ injury has not been delivered.
The bridge was inspected after Gross was hurt but complete findings have not been returned, Smith wrote. “They did not find anything that required immediate attention or that would impact the capacity/weight limit of the bridge,” Smith wrote.
The last full inspection report, from two years ago, rated the southbound Peak Creek bridge as a 5 on a scale of 0 to 9, Smith wrote.
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