By Alex Bridges
Local officials expressed excitement over news that work to replace the U.S. 340-522 bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River should begin by year's end.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board on Thursday awarded a $48.4 million contract to G.A. & F.C. Wagman Inc., of York, Pa. The three-year construction project calls for the replacement of the South Fork Bridge and the construction of a new intersection at Va. 55 (Strasburg Road) in Warren County.
A Virginia Department of Transportation press release states that work on the project is expected to be completed in late 2017.
VDOT estimated the cost at $72.2 million, including $61 million for construction, $4.9 million for engineering and $6.3 million to obtain rights-of-way from property owners, according to information provided by Project Manager Scott Alexander.
The $48.4 million bid covers construction, Alexander said. The $61 million estimate includes other costs such as inspection services, railroad monitoring, contingencies to cover unforeseen expenses and incentives for early completion.
VDOT calculated an average 30,400 vehicles per day crossed the South Fork Bridge in 2012, Alexander said. VDOT plans to accommodate an estimated 52,900 vehicles per day by 2036.
By comparison, the North Fork Bridge replacement -- 1,071 feet long, five lanes and at 2005 prices for fuel and steel -- took slightly more than four years to complete and cost $27.6 million, according to Alexander.
County Administrator Douglas Stanley said the project, at least in terms of the engineering and construction, has been a transportation priority for Boards of Supervisors over the past decade, though the idea of replacing the South and North Fork bridges has existed since at least the mid-1990s.
"We knew it was going to be a big project, an expensive project, and the difficulties of trying to get it funded," Stanley said. "I think the residents of Warren County are fortunate that the governor's transportation plan was approved last year, which has provided some additional funds to VDOT and to be able to get some of these projects completed. Maybe speed it up a little bit so we appreciate the support of local delegates and senators that were able to support that legislation."
Front Royal Town Manager Steven Burke said VDOT continues to work with local officials and to keep them informed. Burke said he expects the effort to continue through the project.
"The town is looking forward to the South Fork Bridge being upgraded," Burke said. "We have been in regular communication with representatives from VDOT regarding the project as well as potential impact to the town."
VDOT has invited town representatives to attend pre-construction meetings with the contractor. At those meetings the town would consult with the contractor and VDOT on any concerns regarding the construction of the project and the impact to the community, Burke said.
"We've always understood it to be a multi-year project just due to the length of the bridge and the improvements associated with it," Burke said.
The North Fork Bridge replacement project brought heavy traffic congestion at times during construction, usually when crews closed travel lanes, Burke noted.
"VDOT officials are aware of the problems that we experienced with that project and that's why they're trying to be proactive with the town to ensure that we have adequate advanced notice of lane closures as well as working with us to try to minimize any disruption of traffic," Burke said.
VDOT advised in the press release that crews will keep four travel lanes open during construction and will maintain pedestrian access to the bridge.
Stanley noted that motorists should expect back-ups, "especially during rush hour."
"But I thought VDOT did an excellent job during the construction of the North Fork to try to minimize the backups and try to schedule heavy work outside the commuting hours, bus traffic hours," he said.
The South Fork Bridge is closer to town limits and nearby businesses and neighborhoods than the North Fork.
Burke said VDOT has also indicated that it will work with the contractor to minimize any impact to the adjacent residential areas.
"There will have to be some construction traffic that is routed down Royal Avenue for some of the bridge work, and we will not be permitting truck traffic associated with the contractor down any of the side streets. So we will work with them to minimize impact to any of the neighborhoods," he said.
The project replaces the deteriorating, four-lane bridge and seeks to address traffic congestion that occurs along the U.S. 340-522 North Corridor. The existing structure outside Front Royal was built in 1941 and spans 1,900 feet. It crosses the Norfolk Southern Railway and ranks as one of the longest bridges in Virginia, according to VDOT.
The South Fork Bridge is built in the same fashion as the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed in 2007, Stanley noted.
Stanley called the bridge is "functionally obsolete."
The administrator noted that the U.S. 340-522 North Corridor remains a major connector between the town and county as well as to Interstate 66 and the Winchester area.
The new bridge includes six lanes for vehicles and accommodates bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Plans call for improved signs, markings and longer turn lanes. The project also includes construction of a left-turn lane at 18th Street in Front Royal.
In order to maintain traffic flow through the construction, the new bridge will be located slightly offset to the east to align with the North Fork Bridge that opened in 2008.
VDOT used a new "Quadrant Roadway Intersection" design for the area of U.S. 340-522 and Va. 55 to compensate for increased traffic projected for the crossing.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com