VDOT hearing on bridge proposal set

A controversial plan to replace a bridge in Warren County can move forward to the next step.

The Virginia Department of Transportation announced Friday that it would hold a public hearing in February on proposed improvements to the bridge on Morgan Ford Road (Va. 624) over the Shenandoah River. VDOT needs to hold the hearing before it can proceed with the project.

VDOT plans to replace the single-lane, low-water bridge with a two-lane crossing. The existing bridge, built in 1925, is prone to flooding over and has been the site of at least two recent, traffic-related deaths. The project seeks to raise the bridge eight feet above the current structure to help prevent flooding and extend the length of the crossing.

Opponents of VDOT’s proposal claim the new bridge as designed would harm nearby historic and recreational resources and the viewshed. The Piedmont Environmental Council hired an engineer earlier this year whose design shows a two-lane bridge only 2.7 feet higher than the existing crossing. A bridge of these dimensions would not disturb the nearby resources, including the former community of Smoketown, the council contends.

Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the council, said Friday that the reviewing agencies rejected a majority of the engineer’s recommendations. The organization asked the agencies to reopen the review process because they had not given enough weight to evidence it presented on the location of Smoketown. Holmes said he does not expect the review process to be reopened.

“Well, I don’t know really what much more we can say,” Holmes said. “If we were to state our opinion it would be a restatement of our position and the fact that we feel that they turned down a reasonable and viable alternative, one that is feasibly prudent and one that would not have encroached the historic community [of Smoketown].”

Warren County Supervisor Richard Traczyk has criticized opponents, including the Piedmont Environmental Council, for delaying the approval process. The organization’s involvement did delay the design approval process, some VDOT officials have said.

Traczyk stated in an email Friday “I am overjoyed the process is moving forward. [VDOT] has worked so hard on this project and now the citizens of Warren County will finally have their say at the public hearing and we can move forward with the bid process and construction. My concern is and always has been for the safety of our citizens crossing the bridge.”

Traczyk, whose district includes the area of the bridge, added “I truly hope we have an overflow crowd at the hearing in support of the project. So many have asked when will it be done.”

Opponents also have said a wider, higher bridge will draw more traffic. VDOT estimates that traffic on and around the bridge will increase anyway. In 2012, an average of 1,876 vehicles traveled in the area of the bridge each day. VDOT expects that number to increase to 3,005 by 2035.

VDOT estimates the project will cost approximately $9.7 million. Neither the existing bridge nor the proposed replacement includes bicycle or pedestrian paths on the bridge.

VDOT will hold the hearing from 4-7 p.m., Feb. 4, at the North Warren Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company station, 89 Rockland Road, Front Royal. VDOT set a rain date of Feb. 11. Those interested in the proposal can discuss the project with VDOT officials and designers at the hearing and submit comments with the help of a court reporter. Written comments can be submitted at the meeting or within 10 days after the date to Ron Tabor, Project Manager, Virginia Department of Transportation, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton, VA 24401-9029.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com