Agencies reach deal on Warren County bridge project

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — A controversial bridge project in Warren County moved closer to construction by passing a major hurdle last week.

The Virginia Department of Transportation reached an agreement with other state and federal agencies on the Morgan Ford Bridge replacement project. The Board of Supervisors learned of the long-awaited action at its meeting Tuesday from Edwin “Ed” Carter, assistant residency administrator in Edinburg.

Specifically, the agreement involves VDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer. The agreement calls for VDOT to reduce the height of the new bridge from a proposed 8 feet over the current crossing to 6 feet.

Supervisor Richard Traczyk, whose district covers the area of the bridge, thanked Carter and VDOT for the agency’s work on the project.

“I know it’s been a long time coming but, with this final signature, it does permit us to kind of continue on with the process,” Traczyk said. “It’s been held up for quite a few months, if not a year through this signature being necessary.

“Thank you and I hope we can continue and the opposition doesn’t throw up another roadblock,” Traczyk added.

The Virginia Department of Transportation proposes to replace the current low-water bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on Morgan Ford Road with a two-lane span. VDOT designed a new bridge 8 feet higher than the current crossing. The proposed height requires that VDOT also make improvements to the bridge approaches and a nearby curve — changes that some foes of the project said would negatively affect historic resources, the viewshed and the environment. The new bridge should have two lanes, railing with wood grain elements.

Parties needed to reach the agreement in order for VDOT to schedule the required public hearing on the project and its proposed design. VDOT hopes to schedule the hearing for sometime in November, Carter said. The Federal Highway Administration must first complete its environmental review of the project before VDOT can schedule its public hearing, Carter said.

The 13-page agreement states that the Federal Highway Administration will ensure that several stipulations will be implemented, including the treatment of the Rockland Rural Historic District. One stipulation calls for VDOT to replace the existing, low water, concrete slab bridge with six-span, concrete deck bridge on the same location.

Other stipulations include:

  • Maintain access to the boat launch at the south end of the bridge after construction
  • Keep the prohibition of trucks between Fairgrounds Road and Howellsville Road
  • Maintain the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit
  • Install heritage tourism signs near the site

The agreement states that the federal agency authorized VDOT to consult with the historic preservation officer to identify and assess the impact on historic resources in the project area. The historic preservation officer concurred with the findings in “A Cultural Resources Survey of the Proposed Route 624 Bridge Replacement Project” drafted in 2011 by VDOT and other parties. The agreement notes that the bridge does serve as a contributing resource to the eligible Rockland Rural Historic District (formerly the Greenway Rural Historic District Expansion).

The Department of Historic Resources plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed historic district at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 in the Rockland Community Church.

According to the agreement, three federally recognized tribes responded to invitations by the Federal Highway Administration’s invitations in 2008 and 2012 to participate in the consultation with the agency on projects in Virginia. The bridge project is within a geographic area of archaeological interest to the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, though no sites listed on or eligible for federal designation will be affected.

The agreement states that Wayne and Susan Chatfield-Taylor, Adie von Gontard, Barbara Frank, Mary Powers Ryan, Dr. Christopher and Theresa Manion, Ben and Carol Weddle, Jeff and Sondra LeHew, Maral S. Kalbian LLC, Georgia H. Herbert and the Piedmont Environmental Council participated in the consultation. The Chatfield-Taylors contribute financial support to the environmental group each year.

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