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Posted July 16, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

VDOT eyes early start to bridge work

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Work on the U.S. 340-522 bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Warren County could start sooner than expected if the state receives the rest of the funding.

The Virginia Department of Transportation scheduled the construction of the new span to begin in 2017. But the agency already began acquiring needed land and has nearly completed the design, according to Scott Alexander, project manager with VDOT.

"We're moving forward with a potential ad date of January 2013," Alexander said.

Asked whether VDOT intends to start construction of the bridge project before 2017, Alexander said "absolutely, that's our goal to get started as soon as possible."

VDOT would expect to receive a notice to proceed within four months after the agency advertises the project. But VDOT can't advertise the project until it has all the funding. A detailed construction schedule shows the project could take approximately four years to complete.

"Not that long ago we were able to kinda lay out the funding for a project and then back our schedule up and then have the plans being developed as the funding built," Alexander said. "But the last couple years funding's kinda come in fits and starts with ARA and stimulus so if you didn't have a project ready when those things came through you were kinda left standing on the sidelines, so our goal is to have this one ready."

"So come January I'm gonna be cocked and locked and ready to go no matter what happens," Alexander added.

Virginia can receive money from the federal government when other states fail to complete projects,

"No matter what, we want to be ready to have this thing ready to go and we'll let the bean counters catch up with us," Alexander said.

If funding for the project doesn't come through, work may not begin until 2017 as originally scheduled under the latest six-year plan. VDOT has slightly more than $30 million funded toward the $83 million project. VDOT has used the money to pay for the design work on the project and to acquire rights-of-way.

VDOT must acquire rights-of-way on either end of the bridge and along the span itself. The agency is in the process of buying the Relax Inn located before the southern end of the bridge. Plans call for the demolition of the hotel and VDOT to turn the site into a park-and-ride commuter parking lot.

Plans call for the replacement of the U.S. 522 bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The scope of the project begins at 18th Street in Front Royal just before the south end of the bridge. The design involves widening the bridge from four to six lanes. The majority of the six lanes serve to accommodate a new intersection at Va. 55 and U.S. 522, according to Alexander.

"That intersection is a mess during rush hour and part of the goal of the project is to help clean up some of that congestion during rush hour," Alexander said.

VDOT plans to build at Va. 55 and U.S. 340-522 a new type of intersection called a quadrant roadway intersection. The design includes the creation of a connector road in the southwest quadrant of the intersection. Instead of one traffic signal at Va. 55 and U.S. 340-522, VDOT plans to build another access route just north of the bridge and before the current intersection. The new access road takes motorists from U.S. 340-522 via two, left-turn lanes west to a controlled intersection at Va. 55. The route also allows eastbound traffic on Va. 55 to turn at the new traffic light and travel to the new intersection, according to designs from VDOT. Motorists also can continue traveling through the new intersection northbound to U.S. 522.

Phasing of the traffic signals and intersections should help alleviate congestion, allowing motorists wishing to take Va. 55 to exit U.S. 340-522 sooner.

"Part of the complicating factor is maintaining traffic during construction. It's a long project. It's a huge bridge," Alexander said.

The section of the bridge over the South Fork spans almost 2,000 feet and goes over the river as well as railroad tracks.

"We learned from the North Fork replacement we had a lot of maintenance of traffic issues and we're trying to take away some lessons from that and one of those lessons is with this project we want to keep the same number of traffic lanes that are there now open during the whole project," Alexander said.

While sticking with that objective would mean leaving four lanes open, Alexander advised some tasks may still result in crews closing a lane or two temporarily.

"But our overriding goal is to have as little impact on the traffic as we possibly could," Alexander said.

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