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Posted September 26, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

VDOT: Mill Creek bridge needs to be replaced

Poses no immediate danger but span deteriorating faster than expected

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- State transportation officials say the agency needs to replace the Mill Creek bridge near Mt. Jackson sooner rather than later.

Representatives told the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that while the bridge poses no immediate danger of collapse, the span continues to deteriorate. Virginia Department of Transportation officials advise the project can't wait six years to start the project, which calls for widening the bridge from one to two lanes.

VDOT had to close the bridge on Va. 698 (Turkey Knob Road/Orchard Drive) to make emergency repairs in August, according to Edwin Z. "Ed" Carter, assistant residency administrator for the agency's Edinburg office. The bridge was reopened on Aug. 30.

"This bridge has reached a deficiency rating of 22 out of 99," Carter told the board. "Because of the advanced deteriorated state that we found in the last inspection, we're trying to advance that to 2016."

VDOT has asked that the board adopt a resolution in support of the agency either closing the bridge completely for the project or constructing a temporary span.

The matter comes back before the board next month.

VDOT Structural Engineer Keith Harrop, in charge of designing the new bridge and managing the project, explained that building the span in two pieces with a temporary construction would take more time.

The option to close the bridge calls for a 4.45-mile detour around the bridge site, Carter explained. Traffic likely would travel to Walkers Road, and take Va. 614 to the intersection of Va. routes 290 and 263, - a 3.72 mile detour.

But demolishing and replacing the bridge takes less time - approximately eight months - and comes at a lower cost, according to Carter. Building a temporary bridge would increase the construction time to roughly two seasons, or between 11/2 to two years, Carter said.

The project is being paid for with state and federal funds. VDOT has not yet secured the land needed to construct the new bridge. Carter said the agency is expecting property owners to provide rights of way after initiating a "willingness posting" rather than VDOT having to hold a public hearing on the matter, wherein the department collects comments from residents and provides information about the project before trying to secure the land.

Efforts to avoid a historic property in close proximity to the bridge could limit how VDOT approaches the project.

"The other piece is because of the way that historic property is and that the way the topography works, we [have] a narrow corridor to put the bridge back in, so if we had to put a temporary bridge next to it and then put traffic onto that temporary bridge, we'd be impeding into that historic property and so we'd pretty much be in their front porch," Harrop said outside the meeting. "We're trying to keep our impacts to that property as minimal as possible."

VDOT must close the bridge if the agency wants to avoid encroaching into the historic property, Harrop explained.

Traffic on the bridge exceeds 700 vehicles per day, which prompted VDOT to seek to widen the span to two lanes. VDOT recently limited the bridge to vehicles no heavier than 16 tons. The new bridge would not have a weight limit.

VDOT looks at a bridges' sufficiency to handle traffic volume and the structure's strength or reliability.

"The bridge is considered structurally deficient," Harrop said, adding that does not mean it is going to "fall down tomorrow by any means. We inspect these things regularly, and when we start seeing problems with them we start inspecting them more regularly."

Inspectors saw more deterioration at the bridge in July and then closed the span and made temporary repairs in August, Harrop recalled.

The bridge, made from steel beams and timber decking on rubble masonry, dates to at least 1932, when VDOT adopted the span into the state system, according to Harrop.

"So it's lived a good, long life, and we've done these repairs to address the issues that were really worrying us when we did the inspection, so we've abated the issue for the time being," Harrop said. "But we look at it and we say we need to do something to get a project in the system and then we can replace it long term."

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