Criser Road Bridge may open next week

By Alex Bridges

The Criser Road Bridge in Front Royal should open late next week, a town official said Thursday.

Front Royal closed the short, two-lane bridge in mid May after flooding from a severe storm left the crossing damaged. The town’s Department of Environmental Services posted signs on either side of the bridge warning motorists that the crossing remains closed. Motorists trying to get to Remount Road from points west of Happy Creek now must take South Royal Avenue to South Street.

Department Director Jimmy Hannigan said Thursday the contractor in charge of installing a new guardrail estimated they would do so within a week. Once installed and inspected, Hannigan said he expects the town can reopen the bridge to traffic.

“As long as everything stays on our side,” Hannigan said.

But not every motorist obeys the warnings to take short detours.

“Everybody’s going to have to go around,” Hannigan said. “We’ve been having issues with people driving across it even with it closed so we ended up having to park a [town] vehicle on it so no one could get across it.”

Fast-moving floodwaters along Happy Creek and debris carried downstream left the guardrail mangled. Water also infiltrated under the asphalt, forcing layers from the road.

The town’s paving contractor already has replaced the road surface damaged by the flooding.

“We’ve been doing steps as fast as we can but we can’t make the guardrail guys get here any faster,” Hannigan said.

While the road surface and the guardrail sustained the most damage, Hannigan said the bridge structure remains sound.

“I don’t want to sit here and say there wasn’t that much done but it could have been worse, damage-wise,” Hannigan said.

The town is planning to eventually replace the Criser Road Bridge with a wider, higher crossing. Town Manager Steve Burke included some money in the next fiscal year budget to help fund this project. Hannigan said the new bridge would be designed to meet more of today’s standards. The travel lanes on the current bridge span approximately 20 feet.

The department tried to re-open the crossing on a temporary basis earlier but the Virginia Department of Transportation would not allow the town do so per traffic safety standards, Hannigan said. He had considered installing jersey walls to replace the guardrails but these barriers would make the two travel lanes too narrow, limiting the crossing to one lane, Hannigan said.

The guardrail will likely cost $4,000 to install, Hannigan said. The town is exploring the option of seeking compensation for the flood damage.

The bridge closing has affected the commutes of many residents who rely on the crossing to get across town to and from Remount Road (U.S. 522). Warren County Public Schools buses have not used the current bridge for some time, given the crossing’s low weight limit. The division’s Director of Transportation Aaron Mitchell said bus routes avoid the bridge. But school officials say they are hopeful that any new bridge built to replace the crossing will be designed to handle bus traffic and thus would allow transportation officials to shorten their routes. Buses currently headed east to U.S. 522 must take Hill Street through a neighborhood to get to South Street and then U.S. 522.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com