Residents in Annandale’s Broyhill Crest neighborhood have been complaining for years about a dilapidated pedestrian bridge over a small creek, urging Fairfax County officials to fix or replace it. As of March 23rd, the bridge is gone, but there’s no money for a new one.
The bridge connects is in Broyhill Crest Park, a neglected bit of green space with a former ball field that Fairfax County no longer maintains. The bridge is used mostly by dog walkers and people using the nearby community garden plots, and provides a shortcut to children walking to Mason Crest Elementary School.
People attempting to cross the creek between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane are now confronted with plywood boards and ropes blocking access to the creek, a sign stating “the damaged bridge has been removed for safety reasons,” and an explanatory note from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.
Gross sent an email to residents March 25th saying that she and Frank Vajda, the Mason District representative on Fairfax’s Park Authority Board, had asked the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to repair or replace the bridge and were told “the bridge could not meet today’s standards and could not be repaired.”
Replacement cost would be $80,000, she estimates. “No source of funding has yet been identified but we are continuing the search.”
“While we had hoped that the old bridge could be shored up and used until replaced, the old bridge simply was unsafe, and collapsing, due to embankment erosion,” the email from Gross continues. It was removed “in an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of Broyhill Crest [residents].”
Members of the Broyhill Crest Community Association (BCCA) met with Gross and Mark Plourde, FCPA Area 2 manager, in December 2015 to discuss the bridge. Their goal was to have it fixed, not torn down.
The BCCA members were told if the bridge had to be replaced there were two options. The bridge could be replaced with a similar structure that would be cheaper but more expensive in the long run, as it would be subject to the same erosion problems. The other option, preferred by the FCPA, would be a more expensive bridge with a longer span, which would be less costly to install as it wouldn’t require as much work on the bank.
The BCCA has requested another meeting with Gross to discuss alternative funding solutions.
Broyhill Crest resident Rick Carlstrom has spoken to county officials several times about the bridge over the years. In 2005, county officials told him they agreed the bridge was in “bad shape” but said it would be at least five years before it could be replaced. He got the same answer from FCPA in 2014, and that time was told a replacement bridge would cost $20,000.
Last May, Carlstrom contacted Gross about the bridge and she came to take a look. At that time, she told Carlstrom in an email that “all of the 2012 parks bond money has been spent and we do not have the $40,000 needed to replace the bridge.”
When he again complained to Gross and the FCPA in February 2016, he was told the schedule to replace he bridge had changed from at least five years to “a very long time” and that the cost was now $80,000 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge. (That estimate might include installation and work on the stream banks to stem erosion.)
Carlstrom then contacted a bridge company on his own, E.T. Techtonics, and received a written estimate of $24,800 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge, including delivery. These bridges come in pieces and can easily be assembled by two people, he says.
According to Carlstrom, the bridge was severely damaged when a tree-trimming crew hired by the county dropped a tree on it a year ago. He suggested the tree company’s insurance policy could pay for the repairs.
“That is not a viable option in this case,” because the felled tree didn’t cause the problem, Plourde responded in an email to Carlstrom. Plourde conntinued by saying the bridge has been collapsing for years due to severe erosion of the stream banks, causing the concrete abutments to fail.
“I realize that this decision will have a negative impact on your community and I apologize for that, but the safety of park users must be our first priority,” Plourde wrote to Carlstrom. “While I understand that schoolchildren use this bridge daily as a shortcut to and from Mason Crest Elementary, please recognize that cutting through a trail in the park is not considered an approved school walking route. Approved routes are public sidewalks and easements.”
“I have lived in Broyhill Crest for over 20 years and have witnessed a shocking downward spiral in the maintenance of the parks in our older established neighborhoods,” Carlstrom wrote in an email to Gross March 14th. He cited the neglect of a large field in Broyhill Crest Park that has become overgrown and unusable, as well as the poor state of the pedestrian bridge nearby.
“Fairfax spends 0.7 percent of its budget on parks, Carlstrom says. “The largest portion of that goes to golf courses and the installation of artificial turf fields. I find it extremely unfortunate that the county makes the installation of artificial turf fields, which cost millions, a higher priority than maintaining our existing park infrastructure.”
A version of this post originally appeared on Annandale VA.