There's a big debate about bridges in Aiken that will take place Tuesday night. South Carolina's Department of Transportation (SCDOT) plans to replace three historic railroad bridges, and people are concerned about what how those changes might change Aiken's history, The three bridges are located on Union Street, Fairfield Street, and York Street, over the railroad tracks.
Ashley Bridges, reporting: "This wooden railroad bridge is part of Aiken's history and while I'm just fine walking over it, in past year, issues with trucks and weight limits that raise questions about history versus safety.
Less than a year ago, the bridge over Union Street in Aiken was closed after being damaged by an overweight truck. Since then, we investigated safety ratings for Aiken's three historic bridges, and they have been labeled "structurally insufficient".
"One of them has a very poor rating and the other two aren't much better, so it does need to be addressed," says Aiken City Council member Dick Dewar.
But how? Some say, while the bridge creeks and groans from the weight of cars, it's telling part of Aiken's history going back to the Winter Colony.
"There are only about 3 of them remaining," says Keith Darr, who is concerned about the bridges' safety.
So, some residents and city leaders are pushing for historic designations for the bridges that would ensure that any changes be appropriate for a historic structure.
"They're part of what makes Aiken...Aiken," says Dewar.
Others who travel the Union Street bridge say that is far from their biggest concern
"A lot of things make Aiken...Aiken, but let's use common sense. If you want to keep something old, keep it on your house, but for the safety of the public, we need modern things in a modern era," says Arthur Washington, who is concerned about the bridges' safety.
Washington says he travels the bridge daily and believes it should be brought up to date. "It should be torn down and modernized. It's narrow, when you start going over it you can't see the other side. They're dangerous," he says.
Those who disagree, say it's also dangerous to change history:
"Once you change, there's no going back," says Darr.
"They're more than just a bridge. When you change that bridge, you're changing the community," Dewar says.
And that other bridge in Aiken tells a clear cautionary tale:
"I'm not for it being modernized in the sense of the Laurens Street bridge," says Darr.
City leaders want your input at the meeting. Ultimately, bridges belong to SCDOT, which can do whatever they want. That meeting will be held Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. at the Aiken Municipal Building on Park Avenue, in downtown Aiken.
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