‘If it’s life and death, can they make it?‘: Aging bridge stands between Franklin County residents and first responders

'You don’t want to live in fear and you just hope every day nothing happens'

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – More than two dozen Franklin County residents are asking for help after being cut off from emergency services because of a bridge in disrepair.

People who live past the bridge on Ridge View St. in Wirtz have been fighting but failing to get the bridge repaired for years, and now they say enough is enough in what they call a matter of life or death.

Judy Hutchins has lived past the bridge for nearly three decades.

“It was just a small little community, a few people and now it’s grown to about 30 people,” Judy said.

Now Judy is worried that community will be cut off.

”You don’t want to live in fear and you just hope every day nothing happens,” Judy said.

A more than 100-year-old bridge is the only way in. As it’s fallen into more disrepair over the years, the weight limit has been dropped to four tons. That will support the average car, but will not support delivery trucks, school buses, ambulances or fire trucks.

With a letter in 2016, Franklin County Public Safety cut residents off from emergency vehicle access.

”How can I get somebody to come over and help me?” Judy said.

Neighbors have witnessed their concerns firsthand and documented them along the way. Pictures from 2018 show firefighters having to run a hose across the bridge to reach a fire. Pictures taken in June show first responders being forced to roll a stretcher about half a mile down the road and back for a medical emergency.

“I’m thinking, if it’s life and death, can they make it?” Judy said.

”I mean that’s just not right. It’s just not right,” said Irene Quigley, who’s lived past the bridge for about 20 years.

Lewis Hutchins, Judy’s son, is leading the charge for change. Not only do his parents live across the bridge, but he’s also a civil engineer.

”It is beyond its lifespan and yes, it needs to go,” Lewis said.

There’s confusion over who’s actually responsible for the bridge. Lewis claim it’s Norfolk Southern, which built and maintains it.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern sent 10 News the following statement:

Norfolk Southern is aware of an overhead bridge at Ridge View Street in Wirtz, Virginia, which crosses over the railroad’s right-of-way and tracks. The facts concerning the history and origins of the bridge are unclear. Norfolk Southern has performed maintenance on the bridge from time to time to protect the track underneath and to prevent interference with railroad operations. Based on the information known at this time, Norfolk Southern does not believe it has a legal obligation to maintain or repair the bridge or to take any action beyond what is necessary to protect its tracks. However, Norfolk Southern is prepared to cooperate in any state or local efforts to provide alternative access.”

“It’s their bridge, it’s their responsibility. The callousness is, what is most concerning is that, you know, they’ll come do minor fixes or repairs just to keep it in service but there’s a bigger issue that they are refusing to address,” Lewis said.

Major upgrades certainly aren’t expected to happen overnight, but neighbors fear their lives are hanging in the balance.

”Help us when we need help,” Quigley said.

”The railroad’s a big corporation and we’re small potatoes but I feel like the people on our road matter,” Judy said.

10 News reached out to Franklin County Public Safety and the Franklin County Board of Supervisors for comment, but had not heard back as of Monday afternoon.

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