South Fork Bridge project on track; traffic shift pending

Construction crews work on the deck of the new South Fork River bridge under construction along U.S. 340/522 in Front Royal. VDOT officials are planning to move some traffic on the bridge within the next several weeks. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Work on the U.S. 340-522 bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River remains on time thanks in part to mild weather.

The Virginia Department of Transportation expects crews to complete much of the work on the northbound side of the bridge early next month, agency spokesman Ken Slack said Monday at the site. Crews will shift northbound traffic to the new section sometime in the first half of January, Slack said, citing information from the project manager.

“That’s the tentative plan,” Slack said. “Once we get past the holidays we’ll check back in to see how the contractor’s doing, how weather held up for them.”

VDOT will alert motorists when the change takes effect.

The new, 1,910-foot bridge replaces the deteriorating South Fork Bridge and features six lanes to address traffic congestion in the corridor. The bridge also features bicycle and pedestrian facilities, a left-turn lane at 18th Street and other amenities. The project also reconfigures the intersection at U.S. 340-522 and Va. 55 (Strasburg Road) on the northern outskirts of Front Royal. The project scope covers U.S. 340-522 from the intersection at 18th Street to the Va. 55.

Everard Lewis, a carpenter with Wagman Construction of York, Pennsylvania, removes the forms along the edge of the new South Fork Bridge under construction in Front Royal. VDOT officials are planning to move one lane of traffic on the bridge in mid to late January. Rich Cooley/Daily

Pennsylvania-based Wagman Inc. began construction on the project in late 2013. The contract calls for completion of the project in late 2017. The project cost includes a construction cost of $48.4 million.

“We’re very pleased with the progress the contractors made,” Slack said. “They’re on time and we’re still scheduled for completion right about two years from now.”

VDOT and its contractor replaced the North Fork Bridge in 2009, four years after breaking ground on the project, at a cost of about $19 million. Slack pointed out that the latest project is much larger in scale.

Crews also have been building the approaches to the bridge on the south end. Motorists traveling north on the highway toward the bridge will shift slightly right and meet with the alignment of the new crossing, Slack said.

“It’s not a huge change but folks are … certainly going to notice it if they’re used to making this commute every day,” Slack said.

Traffic moves along U.S. 340/522 in this view from the new South Fork River bridge under construction looking down on the current bridge that will be replaced. The bridge will be dismantled upon completion of the new bridge. Rich Cooley/Daily

Southbound traffic will continue to use the old bridge temporarily until workers finish construction of the approaches. VDOT expects to have both north- and southbound traffic on the new crossing sometime this spring even though the bridge won’t yet be at its planned width, Slack said.

Crews then will begin dismantling the old bridge, Slack said. VDOT and the contractor do not plan to demolish the bridge in the same way as the previous replacement project for the North Fork crossing. Once crews remove the old bridge, they’ll begin construction of the new South Fork crossing.

VDOT adjusted the alignment and the approaches on the south end in town near 18th Street to accommodate for traffic flow, creating a curve in the process. Slack said opening the new section should smooth out that curve. But the alternative was to close the bridge and create detours.

“It’s a temporary inconvenience but I think once this is done folks are going to be, like, ‘it was worth it,'” Slack said.

The original bridge over the south fork, built in 1941, consists of 12 spans of steel beams and trusses with a concrete deck. The 4-lane bridge surpassed its 50-year lifespan as designed. The state prohibits trucks weighing more than 38 tons from using the current bridge because of the structure’s condition. The restriction hinders truck commerce in the area, VDOT has said.

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