Warren bridge work moving ahead

Ken Slack, Virginia Department of Transportation communications specialist, left, and bridge inspector Donnie Cummins walk along the Morgan Ford Bridge on Tuesday while piles of steel rest along the banks of the Shenandoah River. Contractors are preparing to use the steel to build a cofferdam and begin construction of the new bridge. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Construction workers replacing the Morgan Ford Bridge expect to start taking apart the crossing soon, state transportation officials say.

The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a $4.9 million contract to Orders Construction Company Inc., of Saint Albans, West Virginia, in January. The contract calls for the project’s completion by June 1, 2018. VDOT closed the bridge and the approaches from Howellsville Road to Fairground Road to traffic in April. The project replaces the low water, single-lane bridge with a higher, two-lane crossing that features guardrails.

High water in the Shenandoah River kept workers from relocating fiber optic cables that run under the bridge, Jeff Somers, project manager with VDOT, said Wednesday.

“Everybody keeps talking about this thing being two years; it’s an awful long time to build a bridge – we’ve built that into our schedule,” Somers said. “We know that this thing floods a lot, so if it doesn’t flood very often hopefully we’ll get this thing done a little faster.”

The river over tops the bridge an average of 60 days per year, VDOT spokesman Ken Slack said. The timeframe allotted for the project reflects the worst scenario, Slack said.

“We knew we were gonna encounter these kinds of delays from day one because it floods here regularly,” Somers added.

The contractor and superintendent on the project are finishing work on a bridge on the James River, said Tim Cooper, lead inspector with A. Morton Thomas. The contractor is familiar with working around deep water, he added.

Somers noted that the contractor moved some supplies and materials to the north end of the bridge Tuesday.

When crews can begin to dismantle the bridge depends on the weather, Cooper said, adding that workers could start construction of the cofferdam in the next few days. The dam is intended to create a dry working area for crews and to prevent materials from going into the river. Once the dam is in place, crews will dismantle the bridge by pulling off sections of concrete slabs.

Cooper said the need to move the utility lines held up the project. Crews couldn’t begin demolition until the fiber optic cables were moved. CenturyLink installed a temporary line over the river, which required more permits, he said, noting that the company couldn’t work on the line while the river was high.

Somers compared the project to the recently completed replacement of a similar bridge in Bentonville where crews working on that project removed slabs and then replaced the bridge.

The deteriorated condition of the Morgan Ford Bridge prompted VDOT to reduce the weight limit on the crossing to 5 tons, which restricted its use by large vehicles including emergency response equipment. While the new bridge will be unrestricted as far as weight, the truck prohibition on the road leading up to the crossing will remain, Slack said.

Cooper said the bridge “is in very poor shape” and pointed out exposed rebar from the crumbling concrete.

VDOT deemed the bridge “structurally deficient,” meaning that it can’t carry modern loads, Slack said.

The project design intends to limit the times the river can flow over the top of the bridge. The river might still flood and close the bridge but VDOT expects that to happen far less often, Slack said.

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