Bridge work moving forward

FRONT ROYAL – Low river levels and little rain are helping construction crews build a new Morgan Ford Bridge in Warren County.

FRONT ROYAL – Low river levels and little rain are helping construction crews build a new Morgan Ford Bridge in Warren County.

Orders Construction Company Inc. began its work to replace the 90-year-old bridge over the Shenandoah River in the spring after years of preparation. Crews removed about half of the existing bridge and recently installed the first of five piers, lead inspector Tim Cooper said Tuesday. Cooper works for A. Morton Thomas Engineering, a firm contracted by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

“The weather has been good and the elevation of the river has been good for them,” Cooper said.

Crews put the first pier in the deepest side of the river. Workers installed a cofferdam that allows them to build the next pier, Cooper said. Once they build all the piers, crews expect to begin installing beams.

“What they’re doing is removing and building as they come (across),” Cooper explained.

It can take crews a couple of weeks to pour and form the piers. However, workers don’t always know what to expect at the site of each pier. Crews set up a cofferdam around the site to pump out the water to create a dry area. There’s usually no estimate on how long that process can take, Cooper said.

Crews then excavate the site and dig until they reach solid rock, he explained. That can happen quickly or take more digging, Cooper added.

While construction crews prefer not to need to excavate rock in most projects, he said workers building bridges prefer the solid layer.

Crews hope to install at least three piers before the weather turns more inclement, Cooper said.

VDOT estimates completion in spring 2018.

The project calls for the replacement of the single-lane, low-water bridge with a higher, wider crossing on Morgan Ford Road near Howellsville Road. The existing structure, built in 1925, consists of a single, 11-foot-wide lane spanning 321-feet long. The new two-lane crossing located at the existing location will feature a 22-foot-wide travel way to extend 480 feet long. The longer, wider span required VDOT to design a higher bridge with approaches that begin sooner.

The new bridge does not include enough space for a sidewalk or bike lanes. However, bicyclists and pedestrians can still use the crossing.

The Virginia Outdoor Foundation and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hold easements on the north and south sides of the bridge, respectively. The Morgan Ford boat landing lies on the southeastern side of the bridge.

A traffic study conducted in 2012 showed 1,876 vehicles traveled through the project area each day. VDOT estimates this number to increase to 3,005 by 2035.

VDOT estimated the project cost at $9.71 million. That amount included at the time a construction cost of $7.86 million. However, VDOT awarded a $4.88 million construction contract to Orders in January.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or