Bridge’s days are numbered

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 20, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The next time the King’s Highway Bridge needs to be closed for repairs will be the last time.

On Wednesday, a Virginia Department of Transportation official told Suffolk City Council that his agency would spend no additional money maintaining the dilapidated 65-year-old span across the Nansemond River linking Driver and Chuckatuck.

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Resident Engineer MacFarland Neblett showed Council a series of photos that depicted one-eighth inch cracks running the width of the bridge’s surface, exposed rebar underneath it, vertical cracking and various holes and salt deterioration.

&uot;This bridge has a sufficiency rating of zero,&uot; Neblett said. &uot;That means it’s basically outlived its useful life.&uot;

In addition, Neblett noted that accelerating deterioration has made it necessary for VDOT to reduce the bridge’s weight limit from 10 tons to five, making it passable by cars, pickup trucks and light vans only. He said the new posting would be done in the next 30 days.

A plan for a new crossing near the bridge is a priority project in the VDOT’s six-year plan, Public Works Director Eric Nielsen told Council members at the work session prior to Wednesday’s regular meeting. But even if design and construction are accelerated it will likely be five to six years before the new bridge is completed.

Sleepy Hole Councilwoman Linda Johnson, who said she frequently uses the bridge, asked Neblett how much worse the bridge has to get to close it.

&uot;Every time I get on it I feel like ‘why did I do this?’&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Why am I on this bridge?&uot;

Neblett responded that closing would come soon if tractor-trailers are not kept off it. He said bridge tenders counted 40 over-the-weight-limit vehicles used the bridge during a recent nine-week period.

The posting has been decreased twice from 18 tons since the VDOT acquired the bridge from private ownership in 1963. It was reduced to 15 tons and then 10 in 1999.

&uot;Even after we reduce it to five tons, I can’t say how long we’re going to be able to keep the bridge open,&uot; Neblett said, noting that bridge is being inspected about four times a year instead of the typical one time. &uot;When we’ve reached the point where we feel like the bridge needs to be closed, we’re going to close it and put up barriers. The next time it’s closed, it’s going to be permanent.&uot;

He noted that in talks with his district administrator they decided that if any needed maintenance exceeds $10,000, &uot;we’re just not going to spend it.&uot;

He noted that Suffolk Public School officials told him that no buses are using the bridge.

He said a full inspection of the bridge is done every six months and that less elaborate inspections are performed in between.

The bridge’s closing would create an 18.7-mile detour for motorists.