Chuckatuck residents frustrated over closure of Kings Highway Bridge

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

The Kings Highway Bridge might be a dead horse.

But as long as there is the faintest hope of reviving it, local residents are keeping the issue alive.

More than 60 residents – many frustrated by the recent closure of the dilapidated span linking the village with the rest of north Suffolk – turned out Friday night to meet with Suffolk City Councilman Joseph Barlow and Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. The crowd packed into the Chuckatuck Volunteer Fire Department and grilled officials on what they could do to get the bridge reopened.

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The meeting came just two days after Wednesday’s council meeting, when city lawmakers formally abandoned efforts to have the bridge repaired for both fiscal and safety reasons. Last month, the Virginia Department of Transportation told city officials it would be possible to temporarily fix the bridge for around $700,000 but that it didn’t have funding for the project.

The decision was supported by VDOT District Administrator Dennis Heuer, who attended the council meeting.

On Friday, many took VDOT to task for the bridge closure, saying the agency should shore up the span until the new one can be built. But realistically, officials said, that’s not likely to happen.

&uot;I don’t think the bridge will ever be reopened if VDOT is not taking liability,&uot; said Jones.

Barlow agreed.

&uot;VDOT is not going to fund it,&uot; he said. &uot;The council feels like the city could not accept the liability, even if we could come up with the $700,000 needed to fix the bridge.

&uot;We have to use our judgment on what we think is safe for citizens.&uot;

Even so, residents countered, something needs to be done about the bridge closure, which is forcing motorists to take detours upwards of 15 miles.

One questioned whether VDOT had ever looked into building a pontoon bridge-a secured, floating bridge used in other parts of the country.

Linda Wright, who helped organize Friday’s meeting, said she believes residents would be willing to pay a toll to cross the repaired span.

She said she has had conversations with VDOT representatives who believe tolls could be an effective way of funding repairs. Other bridges in the state- including one almost as old as the 77-year-old Kings Highway Bridge–have effectively been repaired and put back into use, she said.

The repairs might just be a Band-Aid, Wright said.

&uot;But that’s better than what we have now,&uot; she added.

VDOT is at fault for neglecting to fix the deteriorating bridge, said Cherry Grove Road resident Dot Dalton.

&uot;VDOT let the bridge slide,&uot; she said. &uot;The pressure should be put on them.&uot;

Joseph O’Brien of Chuckatuck agreed.

&uot;They should be made to step up to the plate and fix the bridge.&uot;