By Alex Bridges
Heavy vehicles can no longer cross a low-water bridge in Shenandoah County until the state builds a new crossing.
The Virginia Department of Transportation recently reduced the weight limit of the Artz Road Bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River from 10 tons to 5 tons. The agency's ongoing inspection program "revealed increased structural deficiencies" with the bridge, according to information from the department.
Signs recently installed alert motorists of the restriction. Only a handful of homes are on Artz Road.
A 5-ton weight limit may not prohibit most passenger vehicles from crossing the bridge, but the restriction likely would keep heavier vehicles -- including most fire and rescue apparatus -- from using the bridge when responding to calls on Artz Road. VDOT spokeswoman Sandy Myers said the department imposed the restriction a few days ago. The agency has notified area fire and rescue departments about the reduced weight limit.
Maps show that emergency vehicles can still reach Artz Road from Old Valley Pike (U.S. 11) by way of other roads, but any route would likely increase response time.
Officials with the Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department and the Woodstock Fire Department have been discussing how the weight-limit reduction might impact emergency response in the Artz Road area. Tim Williams, operations chief for the Shenandoah County department, explained Monday that the average pumper truck can weigh 18-20 tons. An ambulance can weigh seven to nine tons, also exceeding the 5-ton limit.
Woodstock Rescue Squad Capt. Matt Dellinger said Friday that the squad seldom receives calls for service on Artz Road.
"We might go out toward that way once a year 'cause there aren't too many houses back there," Dellinger said. "As far as there being an emergency back there, I guess we have no choice but to use the bridge."
Dellinger said he didn't know the weight of each of their vehicles, but one truck might come close or exceed the limit. Dellinger said the squad would need to look into whether or not they would need to adjust how it responds to calls on Artz Road if its vehicles can't cross the bridge.
The weight restriction should only last until VDOT builds the bridge replacement. VDOT is currently designing a project to replace the single-lane, low-water bridge on Artz Road (Va. 663) built in 1922.
The new bridge will be located a half-mile east of the Artz Road intersection at U.S. 11. The current bridge is made of concrete slabs and is 293-feet long and 16-feet wide with no railing. VDOT has proposed to build a new, single-lane bridge that is 300 feet long and 19-feet wide with a 20-inch, low-profile railing.
The proposal calls for building the new bridge downstream from the existing crossing with minimum changes to the approaches. The slightly raised grade of the bridge should reduce the frequency of the river topping the crossing during high-water events.
The low volume of traffic on Artz Road means the bridge does not require two lanes, VDOT officials have said. The road showed an average traffic count of 174 vehicles per day in 2012. VDOT estimates that number to increase to 200 in 2026.
VDOT held a public meeting on the project design last week. The department plans to obtain the property necessary for the project this fall then advertise for construction bids in early 2015.
Benefits include improved safety of the bridge by providing a wider structure and rails as well as the ability to support modern vehicles without a weight restriction.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com