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Thompson & Litton and Town of Marion Honored

February 23, 2006

Thompson & Litton and the Town of Marion were recently honored as the recipients of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia (ACEC/V), Engineering Excellence Honor Award for 2006 for the combined effort on the East Chilhowie Street Bridge project. The award was presented in Richmond. ACEC/V recognizes engineering projects in the Commonwealth of Virginia for outstanding design and excellence. Scott Wilson, PE, Project Manager, Steve Brooks, PE, Structural Engineer, and James Thompson, Chairman, attended the awards ceremony to represent Thompson & Litton. The Town of Marion was represented by Mayor David Helms, Town Manager John Clark, Town Council Member Ken Heath, and Police Chief Mike Roberts.

The Historic East Chilhowie Street Bridge in the Town of Marion, Virginia was built in 1885 according to the fabrication plate on the bridge which, in addition to the date, is inscribed with “King Iron Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio”. An important part of local history, the bridge is reportedly the oldest two-lane iron bridge in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The leaders and citizens of Marion take great pride in this landmark structure which was constructed only 53 years after the formation of Smyth County. The Mayor and Town Council could have demolished it and replaced it with a modern bridge, but they had the extraordinary vision to preserve it, with the help of a TEA-21 grant through the Virginia Department of Transportation, as a valuable piece of the state’s history. It has become an economic development tool that is helping to promote trail-related tourism and Marion’s strong historical heritage and natural recreation assets. The bridge had been in continuous use from 1885 until 2003, at which time, the load carrying capacity was deemed to be 2 tons and the bridge was closed to traffic.

Thompson & Litton, Inc. was retained by the Town of Marion as the structural engineer of record to design the improvements, oversee bidding and provide construction administration services. This project aptly demonstrates that many old structures are worth saving and that “new” is not necessarily “better”. Hopefully, younger engineers will recognize that the original designers and builders of the East Chilhowie Street Bridge and similar structures were pioneers in the industry and built quality products that have stood the test of time. Imagine…the bridge logged 119 years of continuous service with the only repairs being a replacement of the wooden deck and re-painting. That is incredible! The renovation of this bridge also forced the design team to research and learn about bridge construction methods, materials and design criteria of the late 19th century.

The process of rehabilitating this bridge did involve social, economic and sustainable design considerations. Sustainable design was addressed by keeping as much of the original structure as possible. Larger existing steel members were reinforced with steel plate, rather than replacing the entire members. Also, all of the lead paint was removed and the potential harm to health and the environment was eliminated. In fact, the rehabilitated bridge was designed such that future maintenance will consist mainly of repainting the bridge every 20 years. This involved re-directing rain runoff from critical bridge components, which is what had caused the corrosion that led to the rehabilitation. From an economic standpoint, the bridge is now an economic development tool for the Town as it is an attraction that links several trails, and is well traveled by tourists. Socially, the bridge was designed with sidewalks on either side to provide safe passage for trail walkers, runners and patrons of the adjacent Town Swimming Pool. www.T-L.com

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