A vital pedestrian link for downtown Staunton has been closed for nearly all of this year, and now it is gone altogether. Contractors and heavy cranes carefully removed the Sears Hill Bridge Monday. The question now is how much it will cost to get it back in service.

For more than a century, a footbridge gave pedestrians access over the railroad tracks that divide the Sears Hill neighborhood from downtown Staunton. It was condemned in January, beginning a long debate over what to do with the historic span and who would pay for it.

It took all of 10 minutes to move the Sears Hill pedestrian bridge but 10 months to agree on how to do it. The property owner is paying the cost of the removal, up to $20,000. At the moment the bridge comes to rest on a flatbed trailer it becomes Staunton city property. So, what happens next?

"Some steel workers or metal fabricators can get a good look at it," said Staunton Assistant City Manager Jim Halasz. "Remove the rust, look at the condition of the metal itself and determine what part of it can be saved or maybe restored, and what part of it has to be replaced and re-fabricated."

It will probably take several months to repair the bridge and get it back in place. Engineers will need weeks just to find out how much it would cost the city of Staunton.

"We think it's going to be less expensive than building a new bridge because most of it's still in pretty good shape, besides it being historic," said Bill Frazier of a group called Friends of the Sears Hill Bridge. "So, if we start all over again that might give us a more functional bridge, but we would lose our history in the process."

Friends of the Sears Hill Bridge say it would be a crime to let that happen so they are collecting donations and seeking grants to help pay for the cost of restoring the 1905 structure.

"It's a different kind of landmark, but it's very historic," said Frazier. "Staunton's got a good reputation for saving its historic treasures, and this is certainly one of them."

The Sears Hill Bridge is on the national historic register, sharing that distinction with about two dozen bridges in Virginia.

During its inspection and likely restoration, walkers can use a new foot-path that runs down Sears Hill and meets Middlebrook Road.

Reported by Ken Slack
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