VDOT shifts creek bridge plans

State transportation officials heeded preservationists and went back to the drawing board on a bridge project for Shenandoah County.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to replace the separate northbound and southbound bridges on U.S. 11 over Cedar Creek with one, two-lane crossing. VDOT held a public hearing earlier this year on the design that called for building the new bridge in the middle of the existing crossings and removing the separate spans at a cost of approximately $7.27 million.

VDOT recently decided to switch gears and design a new bridge that would lie in the area of the current northbound crossing. VDOT now needs to redesign and engineer the bridge for the new alignment, Project Manager Ronald Tabor said Thursday. Using the northbound alignment means the new bridge will be approximately 100 feet longer than designed and at a higher cost, with early estimates at $1.5 million over the original figure. VDOT will know a more exact amount in the next couple of months, Tabor said.

“Our whole problem with it is we don’t really know because it really just happened,” Tabor said. “Right now we’re having the consultant look at developing where they think we would be able to put the alignment with the least impact because it can’t go exactly on top of the existing alignment.”

The northbound route poses other construction challenges and impacts that the original design sought to avoid, Tabor said.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation opposed the previously approved design and, in an Oct. 27 letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, voiced concerns about the project. Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Keven Walker states in the letter that the proposal would “harm the cultural landscape of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District” that includes the Cedar Creek Battlefield. Walker was not available for comment Thursday.

The 21-acre right-of-way within the project area is considered historic, core battlefield land as are the road traces of the Old Valley Turnpike and the adjacent Daniel Stickley farm and mills that have been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Walker goes on to state that the area of the park and battlefield in which the project area lies is so important that the foundation spent $2.1 million to protect a farm adjacent to the right-of-way that includes the bridges.

“SVBF requests that you ensure that an appropriate location and design of this project is chosen that reflects Virginia’s commitment to the preservation of its Civil War battlefields and other cultural and natural resources,” Walker states.

The governor and other officials apparently listened to Walker and called for VDOT to adjust the design accordingly. In a letter dated Monday, state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey L. Layne Jr. responded to Walker’s concerns.

“We have carefully considered all of the comments received from the Parks and Partners Group (National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, Belle Grove Plantation, Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation and Shenandoah County) over the last several years as well as comments received at Public Hearings and correspondence after the public hearing,” Layne states. “Many issues similar to your letter were discussed during a May 5, 2014 meeting with the Parks and Partners’ group.

“We appreciate your input and interest in the project,” Layne continues. “We have considered your points, and minimized impacts to significant resources.”

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