Morgan Ford Bridge• Built in 1925, single lane, 11-foot-wide, 321-feet long
• Does not meet current design standards
• Poor condition
• Deemed not economically feasible for repairs
Replacement Bridge• Two lanes over current span, 460 feet long, 22-24 feet wide, 15 feet above water
• Meets federal width requirements
• Estimated cost $7.3 million
• Construction to begin spring 2016
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation
By Alex Bridges
Opponents of state plans to rebuild Morgan Ford Bridge say a new, wider span would draw more traffic and harm the view by their homes.
But traffic along Morgan Ford Road and the one-lane bridge over the Shenandoah River has increased without a second lane, according to data from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Meanwhile the decades-old bridge deteriorates under the wear of motor vehicles and the elements.
Preservation Virginia in May placed the bridge on its 2012 list of most endangered historic sites in the state. The nonprofit group put the bridge on its list based on a nomination by local residents and land owners urging maintenance and preservation of the existing crossing.
"VDOT proposes to replace it with an all-weather elevated bridge that would greatly change the character of the approach, the landings and the community served by the existing bridge," the organization's list states.
Preservation Virginia recommends the state repair the existing bridge, but VDOT claims such efforts are not feasible.
VDOT, which presented information about the project earlier this summer to residents, plans to hold a public meeting on the matter Nov. 14 in which agency representatives will answer questions and collect input from residents.
The design calls for a two-lane bridge over the existing span. The new bridge will be approximately 460-feet long and 22- to 24-feet wide. Approaches on either side of the bridge will have two, 9-foot lanes with 6-foot shoulders where guardrail is needed and 4-foot ditches in some areas, according to VDOT. The agency says the bridge would be "several feet" higher than the current crossing.
Preservation Virginia also notes the replacement bridge can hold up to 40 tons and a heavier traffic flow likely requires a wider, straightened road leading to the crossing.
Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard H. Traczyk said Monday he feels disappointed that opposition to the bridge replacement exists.
Traczyk said he supports replacing the bridge, which lies in his district, as planned for safety reasons and cited the needs of the hundreds of drivers who use the span every day.
"[Opponents] are saying that it's going to take away from the ambiance and the beauty of the area," Traczyk said.
Opponents also claim a two-lane bridge would attract more vehicles and promote the route as a bypass, around what Traczyk said he didn't know.
"From my standpoint we've tried to take into consideration all of the concerns that the opposition had had," Traczyk said. "So we tried to understand what their wants were."
The supervisor explained the plans do not involve the taking of property by VDOT and the bridge is to be built on the same site as the current span. The bridge width is the narrowest it can be to meet federal standards. The bridge will rise 15 feet higher than the current span, making it less prone to flood over, according to the supervisor. Traczyk noted that the plans keep in place a popular fishing area and the curves of the bridge, seen as traffic-calming, remain. The county already banned large trucks from traveling over the bridge. VDOT indicates the speed limit in the area of and across the bridge is 25 mph.
"We'll get it out of the water so now it becomes less of a safety issue, both with the width and the fact that it's not going to be flooded," Traczyk added. "Also, during the winter season, it usually glazes over with ice. All kinds of safety issues - which is my main concern. It's a safety hazard the way it is and the way it's been. We've lost lives on that bridge. We put our fire and rescue people at risk rescuing people who ... try to pass over it when it was flooded and they get hung up."
Stephens City resident Jessica Lynn Barr died when she tried to drive across the bridge March 30, 2010 through nearly 2 feet of water. The swollen river swept Barr's vehicle from the bridge and downstream. Gates, installed shortly after the incident, are maintained by VDOT and are closed during flooding.
Arguments that a two-lane bridge would attract more motorists come too late. VDOT data shows traffic over the bridge has increased anyway.
VDOT conducted a 72-hour traffic count in May and the results showed an average 1,876 vehicles crossed the bridge daily, according to information from the agency. By using a compounded growth rate for the area of 2.07 percent, VDOT calculates the average daily traffic to increase to 3,005 vehicles per day by 2035.
VDOT reported in 2005 the section of Howellsville Road saw 1,100 vehicles per day, according to information posted about the project on the department's website. VDOT estimates that number to increase to 1,761 by 2028. As the recent information indicates, vehicle traffic already has surpassed VDOT's estimates.
The latest bridge inspection showed a general condition rating of four for the deck and the superstructure, and a rating of 5 for the substructure. VDOT rates bridge conditions on a scale of 0-9. VDOT defines a rating of 4 as in poor condition with elements of showing advanced section loss, deterioration, spalling or scour. A rating of 5 means fair condition, with primary elements sound but showing some minor section loss, cracking, spalling or scour.
"So it's either replace the bridge or one that gets hit by a couple more logs during a flood and we're out a bridge altogether, which probably would not make the people that live near there unhappy - just block it off and have no road there at all," Traczyk said.
The Virginia Outdoor Foundation and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hold easements on the north and south sides of the current bridge. Traczyk noted that such easements bar residential or commercial development, undermining arguments of a wider bridge
During the design phase of the project, VDOT reviewed the historic and cultural resources of the vicinity and worked to make sure the bridge would mix with the surrounding environment and rural community, according to the agency project webpage.
VDOT will hold the public information from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Front Royal Volunteer Fire Department, C.W. Turner Banquet Hall, 221 Commerce Ave. Agency representatives will be available to discuss the project and answer questions.
VDOT also will take written comments at the meeting or within 10 days after the Ronald Tabor, project manager, Virginia Department of Transportation, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton, VA 24401-9029. Oral comments can be recorded at the meeting with the assistance of a court reporter, according to VDOT.
The total estimated cost for this project is $7,336,103, including $694,004 for preliminary engineering, $679,369 for right of way and $5,962,730 for construction.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org