Kings Highway Bridge closed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2005

Kings Highway Bridge tender Buddy McCurdy is going to miss the salt-water smell that sometimes rises from the marshy banks of the Nansemond River.

He’s going to miss watching this year’s crop of osprey chicks grow up in the nest atop the draw.

&uot;It’s going to be unusual not to be out here,&uot; McCurdy said early Saturday, hours before the Virginia Department of Transportation permanently closed the 77-year-old swingspan bridge linking Chuckatuck and Driver.

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Late Thursday, VDOT announced that the dilapidated bridge would be closing over the weekend. The decision came just days after state inspectors completed a two-day safety study on the bridge.

VDOT had been keeping a close eye on the bridge, which has far outlived the usual 50-year lifespan typical of most crossings, in recent months, said MacFarland Neblett, resident engineer in VDOT’s Suffolk office. He warned the Suffolk City Council in February the bridge would have to be shut down in the near future because of safety problems.

The bridge will be closing to car traffic late Saturday, after road crews finish installing approximately 40 signs around the area alerting motorists to detours that can be up to 18 miles.

The bridge tenders-who work around the clock to make sure the Nansemond River is accessible to passing boat traffic-have occasionally been called upon during potential emergencies.

&uot;We are a kind of lifeline for boaters in distress or people that need help,&uot; McCurdy said. &uot;We occasionally spot stranded boaters.&uot;

Both the bridge tenders and the public are going to miss the bridge, McCurdy said.

&uot;It’s one of the oldest landmarks connecting the two sides of land,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s a landmark…that is going down into history today.&uot;

Several motorists apparently made a special trip out to take a last bumpy ride across the narrow bridge.

&uot;This morning, we’ve had a lot of people come out and drive across the bridge, then turn around and come back across,&uot; said McCurdy. &uot;Several have even stopped on the bridge to take pictures.&uot;

Despite the inconvenience of a detour, Linda Joyner, who lives on the Driver side of the water, is happy the bridge is finally closing.

&uot;At one time, it looked like I was going to have a superhighway in my front year,&uot; she said. &uot;Now I’m going to have waterfront property on a dead end road.

&uot;It’s going to be so peaceful. I love it.&uot;

Even through the bridge is a primary connector for the community, Joyner believes people won’t find the closure as inconvenient as they think.

&uot;I don’t think people will miss it as much as they think they are going to,&uot; she said. &uot;People won’t notice it after awhile.&uot;

But across the bridge, Iris and Charlie Johnson, who live in Bridgepoint Farms, say they will notice its loss daily.

&uot;I hate to see it close,&uot; said Iris Johnson. &uot;My husband works in Portsmouth. He is really going to miss it.

&uot;It’s going to be a long detour for us.&uot;

Johnson’s neighbor, Joseph V.

O’Brien, agreed, saying he will have travel an additional 10 miles to get to his church or Chesapeake Square.

O’Brien said he is convinced VDOT could have added an extra couple of years to the bridge had there been stricter enforcement of the bridge’s weight limit.

Despite signs listing weight limits, truckers tended to ignore them, he said.

&uot;The bridge could have gone another couple years had VDOT done its job,&uot; he said. &uot;But they locked the barn after all the cattle had gone.

&uot;They did everything after the fact, waiting until a crisis came up before they addressed the problem,&uot; he said. &uot;Had VDOT made it a priority and thought ahead a little, this bridge would still be open today.”