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Morgan Ford Bridge project attracts foes

The Morgan Ford low-water bridge on the Shenandoah River in Warren County is shown. Rich Cooley/Daily file

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 abridges@nvdaily.com


we need a new bridge! i live in rockland and it is by far the fastest route to town,no stop lights,goes under water too frequently and with it"s weight rating you cant take a 30 ton firetruck over it or a tanker! have you seen vdots pitcures of it? you can see them on warren co.web site.ill be at the meeting!

A speeding tanker running stop lights! Just what we need. What's the rush - will your Class B sludge solidify before delivery?

A solution can be found. Create a toll road on that expanse of road. Limit the number and weight of vehicles and stop all traffic when the weather creates danger. Construct gates at either end with access by pre-paid or debit cards. Restaurants and other tourist attractions can give promo cards to visitors thereby creating something special and a worthwhile memory for our most-welcomed visitors.

"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." ~Please see qship's comment.

To be fair, it is a bypass. It is definitely a faster route into town from Rockland rather than coming in via Walmart Way and the double bridges. I think I'm with the opponents though. Having splashed there as a child, and taken my own when they were smaller to hunt up "river shells", I don't believe a new bridge would allow for that. (Even though the riddance of squatters would be a bonus) I don't know how many of these style bridges are left but if properly repaired it is an added pleasure for those looking for "something different" while visiting WC.

We need a new bridge. I live on Happy Creek Rd and I take that road every day to go to work in Winchester, it is a lot closer for me to take that route then having to go all the way thru town, when the river is over it takes me extra time and extra gas to have to travel the long way around just to get to work. In reference to aaspo stating put up a toll road, why should anybody have to pay a toll just to cross the bridge or drive on Morgan Ford Rd. This is not a Interstate Highway or a Dulles toll road. We pay enough in taxes allready that well pay for our use of the highways. This is a road for the people on it to get to there destinations in the shortes route. I think we needed this to be done a long time ago.

I guess some people would rather see someones loved one either being rescued or their body being recoverd ! I will never understand how people can forgo safety for something as petty as this ! { Beauty of the area }

Why is the bridge historical? I would gamble the "site" is historical but not the bridge itself

A new bridge would improve that area as well. During the summer there are so many car there it's nearly impossible to even approach the bridge. During the winter it's a dumping ground for trash and animal parts

"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."

Wow. Just wow. Could we please increase the proposed budget for the project by 3 dollars and purchase a map for the district supervisor?

Please buy me one as well. I also want to know what is by-passed when a Warren County resident wants to get to another part of Warren County. I also live on the Happy Creek side. Since I do not want to be and I am not a town resident, why would I need to go to and through Front Royal to go to another part of my county? DO you drive needlessly out of your way to go from point A to B? Just because something is old does not make it historic. Those who use the bridge will continue to use it. A new one won't bring flocks of new folks to gaze at the grass. If that was the case they would already do it. Lets not forget keeping the current bridge and renovating it is the most expensive option. My favorite line from Preservation Virginia is "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". What community are they referring too? I bet the folks on the Happy Creek side are wanting the bridge and guess what, that is one half of the bridge.

A one sided story. Reads like a Traczyk press release. Who are the "foes" and what are their objections?

To the seeker, please take a few minutes to reread the article and you will see where Preservation Virginia is actively involved in either minimizing or stopping any replacement of the bridge. You'll find that Preservation Virginia is partnered with and backed by the "monied and landed" estate owners on the west side of the river. God forbid that one of the commoners from the east side need to get to the other side for whatever reason.

To introduce class warfare and envy into this discussion is reprehensible, divisive, and ultimately unproductive.

Moreover, it gives the impression that supporters of the bridge bear a grudge towards the folks who have donated thousands of acres of beautiful, scenic land to the Virginia Outdoor Foundation and other preservation groups to protect the unique and beautiful character of the Shenandoah Valley forever.

One could respond to CCMan on his own distasteful level along these lines: some folks want the bypass bridge so they can move ahead in their plans to pave the county and make a lot of money doing it -- making Warren County another Manassas. There's a lot of money in it, but they masquerade as "safety advocates" while they're getting their bulldozers ready.

Of course, that unseemly charge would be unfair to CCMan -- just as CCMan's tawdry taunt is unfair to the people who have contributed, big-time, to the goals of preservation and scenic beauty that is a primary goal of Warren County's comprehensive plan, reflecting the will of the people who live here.

Perhaps our beloved supervisor could take a moment from his image-enhancing media campaign to learn about the history of the area he wants to pave. The proposed bypass goes right through the area surrounding the Low Water Bridge at Morgan Ford. It threatens the oldest known settlement of emancipated slaves in the country. Called “Smoketown,” this village was home to dozens of “manumitted” African-American slave families who settled there early in the 1800s, half a century before the Emancipation Proclamation as free men and women.

For those who consider this bypass only in terms of the minutes it will shave off your commute, one practical observation is in order: that door swings both ways. If you advocate the destruction of a unique historic and scenic area because it maximizes your convenience, you will have no defense when the tables are turned and **you** stand in the way of the “convenience” of some ambitious politician who wants to use other people’s money to build a monument to himself.

Look beyond the end of your nose to the lasting values of the community. If you want to live near a bypass, move to Manassas.

Where did you come up with Smoketown as the oldest known settlement of emancipated slaves in the country? I can't find that anywhere. Just curious and would like to learn more if it is in fact true.

Isopod Lover, I don't believe supporters of the bridge bear a grudge against anyone. They just would like to see the crumbling, unsafe and outdated bridge replaced by a two-lane, elevated bridge that can be crossed year-round and not closed by a couple days of rain.

While the landowners on the west side may have donated "thousands" of acres for conservation and preservation they wouldn't cede a square foot of land for the approach to the bridge. No-one wants to "pave the county". The road is fine as is. A very pleasant drive as a matter of fact. The "will of the people" also includes the folks on the east side

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