Sens. Warner, Kaine Visit Roanoke To Tout New Bridge But City Council In The Dark About Scope of Project

by Scott Dreyer

On a picture-perfect April 12 with a backdrop of the sparkling Roanoke River and dogwoods and redbuds in bloom, Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner (D) and Senator Tim Kaine (D) visited the Roanoke Greenway at Roanoke City’s Smith Park.

The occasion was for the two senators to present a cardboard poster representing a check to Roanoke City for $2.5 million for the replacement of the low water bridge on the popular Greenway just a few yards downstream from Smith Park. The senators stated the funds came from the roughly $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

An email invitation from the City to reporters claimed the new, higher bridge will not only allow kayakers to travel under the bridge unimpeded (at low water levels) but also help the endangered Roanoke logperch swim up and downstream more easily.

In attendance were Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, Sr. and City Council members Joe Cobb, Vivian Sanchez-Jones, Trish White-Boyd, Peter Volosin, and Luke Priddy. All are Democrats, and White-Boyd and Priddy have declared their candidacy to replace the aging John Edwards (D-Roanoke) in the state senate.

The only council member not present was Stephanie Moon Reynolds (I). The Roanoke Star has reached out to Moon Reynolds inquiring about her absence for what was billed as a major event; she explained she was in Tennessee on a prearranged vacation with family.

Speaking from her 42-years’ experience serving Roanoke City under a total of five mayors, Councilwoman Moon Reynolds noted that in past councils, whenever a council member was absent, his or her absence was recognized and noted at the beginning of the meeting, as a courtesy, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.

Other attendees included City Manager Bob Cowell, about a half-dozen of the senators’ aides and approximately 30-plus members of the media and other area officials.

Mayor Lea welcomed the crowd and the senators and thanked them for the funds to replace the flood-prone, low-water bridge. He emphasized that Roanoke is both “inclusive” and a tourist’s and outdoor enthusiast’s haven thanks to our region’s scenic beauty and the Greenway that makes the riverfront so easily accessible to all.

Senator Warner then addressed the crowd, pointing out the bipartisan nature of the infrastructure bill that made these funds available to Roanoke City for the bridge project. “Only in America do you get the term ‘gang’ when you work with the other party. Tim and I have tattoos on our arms,” he joked.

Sen. Kaine then took the podium and mentioned that his wife, Anne Holton, is a Roanoke native, having grown up on Avenham Avenue. (As a young girl, Holton left South Roanoke and moved to Richmond when her father, Lynwood Holton, was elected Governor of Virginia and thus she grew up in the Governor’s Mansion.) Kaine added that his only unpleasant experience here was when he came to take his bar exam to become a lawyer, but that every other experience in the Star City has been a positive one.

When the prepared remarks were over, the senators asked if any members of the media had any questions. This writer asked the first question on behalf of The Roanoke Star if the project was to replace the single bridge just below the park, or would it also include the second bridge upstream? (Near the popular Green Goat Restaurant.)

Both senators expressed that they did not know the answer to that question. They then asked the city council members standing nearby, but none of them expressed knowing the answer until someone suggested that perhaps the city manager could answer it.

Stepping in to end the awkward moment, Cowell explained the project would replace one bridge only. (The one behind the gathered speakers and downstream from Smith Park.)

It seemed extraordinarily odd that, with City Council assembled for an event of this scale including both U.S. senators and local media, no members could answer such a basic question about the overall scope of the project.

Interestingly, it was noted that just upstream from the event at the other bridge at the north end of the park, there is already a sign explaining that that bridge was rebuilt (as a low water bridge) in 2010 in order to reduce flooding and also help the Roanoke logperch.

Evidently, none of the present council members were aware of that sign or the fact that the upper bridge has already been replaced. Of course the obvious question is why build a single raised bridge less than 3/8 mile downstream from a low water bridge that will defeat the purpose of the newer proposed bridge for kayakers?

During the prepared remarks and Q&A that followed, no one mentioned that, despite our local appreciation for funding for the new bridge, the U.S. federal debt is now $31.6 trillion and that has been called America’s greatest national security threat, or how Senators Warner and Kaine plan to pay off that debt, or if they even have the intention to.

Moreover, there was no mention that, while the senators brought a fake check to represent the U.S. Treasury sending our region $2.5 million for a project of questionable benefit, countless other Virginians were sending checks to the IRS/US Treasury–to pay their taxes due on April 18.

Republished with permission from The Roanoke Star.