The bridges of Windsor Castle

Published 12:53 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Decking on walks requires regular town maintenance

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A fall by a Smithfield resident during a routine walk through Windsor Castle Park prompted questions about the maintenance of bridges there.

Kathy Goodridge was walking along the footbridge between the park and Smithfield Station when she tripped on a “pronounced irregularity” of one of boards on the bridge, according to her husband, Dave.

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Kathy suffered a compound fracture to her left elbow that required surgery, said Dave.

His wife’s fall led Dave to inform Smithfield Town Manager Peter Stephenson about her fall and question the maintenance being performed on the bridges at the park. Windsor Castle Park has four long bridges that go over marsh, and several smaller bridges and walkways, such as the Cypress Creek overlook. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Dave noted that the bridges are showing signs of wear and boards are being replaced on the tread surfaces, as well as the railings.

The park opened in 2010. Gatling Pointe resident Lawrence Pitt designed and managed the construction of the park and its footbridges.

Pitt said the pilings and understructure of the bridges are built with traditional salt treated lumber, which contains arsenic — a preservative that significantly retards weather deterioration. Because arsenic is toxic to humans, however, regulations require that decking and railings be of another material, he said.

Pitt said he suggested to the town that the decking and railings be treated with a water repellent material, such as Thompson’s Water Seal, soon after construction to better preserve the wood.

Town Manager Peter Stephenson said the town has not followed Pitt’s advice because of environmental considerations. He said the town concluded such treatment would not preserve the material any longer even if applied. 

Rather, the town inspects the bridges on a regular basis and staff makes repairs and replacements, as needed, said Stephenson.

Using a sealant on the bridges is allowed under state environmental rules and there is no restriction on the selection of the coating material, such as Thompson’s Water Seal, according to Virginia Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden. Hayden said the concern would lie with its preparation and application — making sure that the material is contained and does not end up in the marsh.

The town also has an independent contractor inspect and perform structural maintenance on the park bridges on a rotating basis each year, Stephenson said, adding that he believes the wood used is pressure treated.

A recent walk along the bridges revealed that soft and questionable areas of board were marked with bright blue paint. Most of the bridges included several new boards that had replaced worn ones.

Dave favors a more comprehensive approach to bridge maintenance.

“As you know, the WCP footbridges have begun to exhibit signs of failure and have required more and more frequent replacements of planks, both to the tread surfaces and rail structures. I do believe that the bridges should have been, and should still be treated with wood sealer to arrest, or at least slow down their decline.  Otherwise, the town may face major costs to replace much of the structures,” said Dave in an email to Stephenson.  {/mprestriction}