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Anniversary of Bridge Accident Sparks Concerns

Lack of light and visibility, at least two feet of flooding, and too-few warning signs are reasons why her mother said Jessica lost control of the car before she even knew she was being washed away.

WARREN COUNTY, Va. - Tammy Barr visits the Morgan Ford Bridge every year on March 30th.

She comes to remember her daughter Jessica, who was only 21-years-old when she accidentally drove her car into the Shenandoah River.

"Jessica was a giver, and a helper,” Tammy said, remembering her daughter.

Lack of light and visibility, at least two feet of flooding, and too few warning signs are reasons why her mother said Jessica lost control of the car before she even knew she was being washed away.

"Low water bridges were generally constructed in the early 1900's,” said David Price, a civil engineer specializing in bridge construction. “And when they were built, they served their purpose. They provided a [way] to cross a river, but when the water was high, they generally topped."

After her daughter's accident, Tammy was told a new bridge would begin construction by 2014.

"Now that 2014 is here, I’m told that the bridge will not begin construction until 2016. And I just, I don't understand that, I’m not accepting that,” she said Sunday. She pointed to the bridge, where water from the rain had begun to spill over it. “As you can see behind us, it's very dangerous. The gates are not closed today, and people are still crossing the bridge.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation eventually closed the bridge later that night. By Monday morning, Morgan Ford had officially flooded.

The number of fatalities at Morgan Ford has sparked public controversy among residents. Many say a new, two lane bridge is the only way to keep future deaths from happening.

Others say destroying the low water bridge, would result in a loss of Warren County history, and would have long term damaging effects to the environment. Those against a new bridge would rather see more cautionary measures taken first.

"I’m a bridge enthusiast. I love looking at old bridges. I go around and look at them all the time,” said Price. “But safety has to be a number one concern. [Morgan Ford] was built in 1925. That's almost 90 years ago. A lot of advancements have been made in terms of design advancements and safety standards."

VDOT is slowly updating its 39 low-water bridges in the Shenandoah Valley, like the Indian Hollow Bridge in Bentonville. But Indian Hollow services less than 250 cars a day, and has had only 1 reported accident since 2010.

These facts have residents wondering why Morgan Ford, which sees almost 1,900 cars a day, and has had three fatalities since 2010, isn't first on VDOT’s list to be updated.

"I just want people to see it from a larger angle,” said Barr. “It's going to be so much safer, and years from now, they're not going to have to talk about anybody else's family members losing their lives in such a needless way."

VDOT expects the new Morgan Ford Bridge to cost over $7 million.

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