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End of construction on bridge over Shenandoah's North Fork brings relief to frustrated drivers

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Traffic is moving a lot smoother across the U.S. 340-522 bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River these days, much to the satisfaction of drivers who were frustrated by delays and lane closures during the nearly four years that crews worked to expand the bridge.

Robert Good, acting area construction engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation, said work on the bridge officially wrapped up on Tuesday, a deadline officials long maintained they would meet.

The bulk of the reconstruction, which replaced the previous three-lane bridge with a new five-lane structure, appeared to be finished ahead of schedule. Officials broke ground on the $19.2 million project in October 2005. The bridge spans the North Fork and Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks.

VDOT officials updated the Warren County Board of Supervisors on the project at its meeting on Tuesday morning. The project remained within its budget, Good said.

Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard H. Tracyk said he thought the job was well done. "I [was hoping to] see it done a little bit sooner. But, I think it was an excellent job. I think that the flow of traffic in that area now is [improved] ... I didn't hear too many complaints [from drivers] because they knew what the end result would be."

Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony F. Carter echoed those sentiments. "They did a great job [on the bridge]. It's been a long time coming. But, it's here now," he said. "I think most people were OK with the delays."

A traffic count in 2004 indicated at least 25,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. The new five-lane span includes bike lanes in both directions and sidewalks. Portions of the previous bridge substructure also remained in place and were used with the new improvements.

Approaches to the bridge, meanwhile, now include dual north and southbound through lanes and turn lanes at adjacent connections and entrances. Signals were also installed at the Va. 55 and Duck Street intersections.

Some drivers have said they were frustrated by repeated changes in traffic patterns during construction. At times, traffic was restricted to one northbound and southbound lane, and drivers were urged to take alternate routes in order to avoid significant delays. The speed limit was also frequently reduced to 25 mph.

Jeff Lineberry, a local VDOT residency administrator, said, "We have had the contractor make a few final adjustments to the traffic signal. We were experiencing a little bit of a backup problem there at first. They've made some adjustments and corrected that issue.

"I haven't heard any additional concerns from the traveling public," he said. "Traveling, in my observation of it, [the bridge reconstruction] has certainly helped as far as a congestion standpoint and moving traffic through that area."

Officials plan to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the reconstructed bridge Sept. 28, Lineberry said. Preliminary engineering is also under way for a similar project on the South Fork bridge, he added.

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"Preliminary engineering is also under way for a similar project on the South Fork bridge."

Translation: Prepare to be frustrated again soon.

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