State awards contract for new Cedar Creek bridge

STRASBURG – State transportation officials say construction on a new U.S. 11 bridge over Cedar Creek should begin this spring.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board awarded a $6.9 million contract at its Tuesday meeting to Perry Engineering Co. Inc., of Winchester, to build a new crossing over the creek in Shenandoah County. The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to manage the project with a November 2018 completion date.

The project replaces the northbound and southbound bridges with a two-lane crossing constructed on the northbound bridge footprint. The southbound bridge, built in 1947, and the northbound crossing constructed in 1959, have reached the end of their service life, according to VDOT.

The decision comes more than a year after VDOT, bowing to pressure from preservationists, went back to the drawing board to redesign the project. VDOT held a public hearing in early 2014 on a design that called for removing the existing crossings and building a new bridge in the middle of the two spans at a cost of approximately $7.27 million. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation voiced concern in a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe that the bridge, as originally designed, would harm the cultural landscape of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.

A 21-acre right-of-way within the original project area is considered historic, core battlefield land, as are traces of the Old Valley Turnpike and the adjacent Daniel Stickley farm and mills deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

U.S. 11 north of Cedar Creek narrows from four to three lanes. U.S. 11 will taper to two lanes at the new bridge. The project also corrects a curve on the south side of the bridge – the site of recent vehicle crashes.

The bridge lies along a detour route used for Interstate 81 traffic and remains key to maintaining flow during major incidents, according to VDOT.

The project represents a collaborative effort by state and federal agencies, local historical groups and preservation organizations who helped determine the location and design of the bridge. Contributors included VDOT engineers and consultants, representatives of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the National Park Service, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Belle Grove and Cedar Creek National Historical Park and area residents.

Trip Pollard, director of the Land and Community Program at the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center, responded Wednesday to the news of the contract award.

“We’re very pleased,” Pollard said. “When VDOT did, and the state did revisit the project several years ago and then decided to alter the proposed alignment to use the existing right-of-way, that was a very positive development.”

The original design put the bridge on top of historic resources and Civil War battlefield land, Pollard noted.

“We thought it was a really good victory for historic preservation as well as local communities,” Pollard said. “It’s good for historic resources, good for the environment and good for the community so we were pleased that the administration took that second look at it and it’s continued to move. Since then, we’ve worked and stayed in touch with VDOT and now it’s under contract.”

The new bridge is designed to support current and future traffic numbers and modern vehicle weights while maintaining the integrity of nearby culturally significant sites, according to information from VDOT.

Initial VDOT location and design plans sought to replace the two aging Route 11 Cedar Creek Bridges servicing northbound and southbound traffic with a new structure located between the old bridges. With input from local citizens and several historical organizations early in the project design, VDOT established a collaborative partnership to address engineering challenges while preserving historic and rural integrity. The work of these stakeholders produced significant design changes implemented by VDOT in the final project plans.

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