By Joe Beck
The two occupants killed Saturday night when their car went off the Morgan Ford Road bridge are the second and third of three deaths linked to the single-lane bridge since 2010.
The deaths of Coty James Ferguson, 18, and Robert Allen Jeffries Jr., 17, both of Front Royal, underscored longstanding concerns about the bridge that have led the Virginia Department of Transportation to plan a $7.3 million replacement to be built in 2016.
A third occupant, Tony William Hatfield, 49, survived the crash.
Ronald Tabor, VDOT's leader of the bridge replacement project, said Wednesday the effort remains on schedule, despite a delay in holding a public hearing scheduled for next February.
Tabor said construction of the bridge can begin after taking public input to determine the extent of any worries about the effect of a new bridge on the environment.
Despite the rescheduling of the public hearing from December to February 2014, Tabor said he is optimistic that contract bids for construction in 2016 could be accepted a few months earlier than expected.
"The overall project won't be affected" by the rescheduling of the public hearing, Tabor said.
"We're going to try to get it done as quick as we can," Tabor said, adding, "the project has been around a while and everybody is familiar with its need and the purpose."
Virginia State Police data show 12 crashes on the bridge or within 1/10 of a mile of either side of it since 1990.
A Stephens City woman who died when her vehicle was swept off the bridge in March 2010 was the only recent fatality before Saturday.
State police data also show three accidents involving personal injuries on or around the bridge since 1990.
VDOT's plans call for replacing the 321-foot span built in 1925 with a 460-foot two-lane span.
The current bridge has only one 11-foot wide lane for traffic approaching from either side on Morgan Ford Road. The new bridge will be 22 to 24 feet wide with two 9-foot lanes on the approaches and 6-foot shoulders for guardrails, where needed, according to VDOT plans.
VDOT counted 1,876 vehicles passing over the bridge per day in 2012 and projects 3,005 by 2035.
The new bridge will be several feet higher, which VDOT engineers expect to reduce the number of times water from the Shenandoah River will flow onto the bridge.
"As it is, it's functionally obsolete," Tabor said of the current bridge.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org