VDOT set to open new bridge in Bentonville

By Alex Bridges

Motorists can see the end of an era in Warren County as the state opens a new bridge in Bentonville this week.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to open the new crossing over the Shenandoah River on Thursday. The contractor is finishing the work on the new, two-lane bridge and should begin removing the old, single-lane crossing soon after, Robert Good, area construction engineer for VDOT, said Monday.

“It’s definitely a good improvement for the area,” Good said.

The new bridge is approximately 14 feet higher than the current crossing and includes a sidewalk. The project also called for raised approaches to the bridge and the installation of a culvert under the road near the crossing for a low area in which water occasionally flows.

VDOT awarded the $4.4 million contract to Kanawha Stone Company Inc. of Nitro, West Virginia, in April 2013. Workers faced a few challenges with this project. The contractor and VDOT had to abide by restrictions as it worked in the river. Over the winter, storms caused the river to rise to higher-than-normal levels, Good said.

Longtime resident Steve Cullers lives near the crossing and his family has a close connection to the old, low water bridge. Decades ago, when roads came under Warren County’s responsibility, Cullers’ grandfather and other residents raised money to help build the bridge in the 1920s.

Now, 90 years later, the old bridge must make way for the new crossing. Cullers recalled when VDOT began its work to replace the old bridge, first the surveys, then the public meetings to gather input on the design and eventually the construction.

“They were always honest with me, told me as far as what they needed,” Cullers said.

VDOT needed to acquire private property for the project.

“Actually I didn’t want to give up my land, but it is what it’s gotta be,” Cullers said. “I felt like I was treated fair, compensated fairly. We had some issues to work through.”

But the old bridge needed to go. Cullers recalled that in his time living near the bridge that flooding has stranded neighbors and caused some drowning incidents.

“I’m not against the bridge, never was, because I’ve seen what a need my neighbors had,” Cullers said.

Cullers lauded the contractor for working to keep bridge traffic flowing and accommodating canoeists who come to put their boats in the river.

John Gibson runs the Downriver Canoe Company on the east side of the river close to the bridge. Gibson said recently the new bridge is warranted but, despite its size, fits with the surroundings.

“I liked the design,” Gibson said. “I like the finished product because the bridge doesn’t dominate the area down here.”

Many newer bridges rise much higher than those they replace. Significant rains, such as those that come from hurricanes, would still cause the river to cover the new bridge, possibly by several feet, Gibson said.

“It blends into the surrounding landscape actually quite well,” Gibson said.

Residents attended the early public input sessions VDOT held on the project and many people lobbied to include a sidewalk on the bridge that would allow access to a boat landing on the west side of the river, Gibson recalled.

But Gibson voiced concern about the project.

“This is probably the most heavily used canoe boat landing in the state of Virginia and no accommodation whatsoever has been made to accommodate the canoeists,” Gibson said. “When this project is finished, we’re going to be left with virtually no boat landing on the west side of the river. But hopefully we can get that resolved.”

Gibson lauded the contractor for helping the boating community by putting in a temporary landing.

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