Group wants bridge back

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2005

So far, nearly 1,500 people have signed a petition asking city leaders to patch up and reopen the dilapidated Kings Highway Bridge until a new span is built.

&uot;There is a lot of interest in getting this bridge back on line,&uot; said Linda Wright, a Bridge Point Farm resident who is circulating the petition.

For the past couple of weeks, Wright has spent several hours a day gathering signatures outside the Chuckatuck 7-Eleven.


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&uot;More than 95 percent of the people we have asked to sign it have.&uot;

Wright and other neighbors lobbying to have the bridge reopened will present their signatures to the Suffolk City Council in coming weeks.

The Virginia Department of Transportation closed the 75-year-old bridge over the Nansemond River, a link connecting the northern Suffolk villages of Chuckatuck and Driver, in March because of structural damage. The closing has forced an estimated 3,600 people a day to take detours of between 10 and 20 miles.

&uot;The bridge being down has divided family and friends,&uot; said Wright. &uot;It has forced people to change their lifestyles.&uot;

Many local residents find the extra few minutes it takes to detour around the bridge frustrating, said A.J. Rudd, who also lives in the Bridge Point subdivision.

&uot;It’s like being cut off from the rest of the world,&uot; he said. &uot;Going to the bank, getting to the mall, just about everything you do all of a sudden takes 10 or 12 minutes longer.&uot;

George Kitchen, a Crittenden Road resident stopping by the Chuckatuck convenience store for gas, was happy to sign the petition.

Kitchen, who does work throughout Hampton Roads, said the bridge’s closure costs him money.

&uot;Having to go around adds at least 15 miles to my trip,&uot; he said. &uot;Time is the most important thing I’m losing. My time is more valuable than my gas.&uot;

The lobbying organization, which calls itself the Bridge Club, is not opposed to VDOT’s plan to build a $47 million bridge upstream from the current bridge, Wright said.

But with no construction funding earmarked and no time frame scheduled, the Bridge Club wants the city to invest about $700,000 in repairing the span.

She is hopeful something will materialize out of the city’s recent talks with Georgia businessman Peter J. Vanderzee, president of LifeSpan Technologies, an Atlanta-based company specializing in infrastructure repairs.

Vanderzee has proposed the city – which will own the bridge once the city’s takeover of state roads goes into effect in July 2006 – contract with his company to repair the bridge. He is recommending a toll be charged to cover the costs.

People would be willing to pay $3 roundtrip to cross the bridge for the savings in time and convenience, Wright believes.

&uot;A lot of people think we are against the city…but we are not,&uot; she said. &uot;We believe we are pro-city. The majority of people in Suffolk want to see this bridge reopened.&uot;

Even so, Suffolk City Councilman Joseph Barlow, who represents the Chuckatuck borough, is doubtful it will happen.

&uot;I think the majority of council supported the closing of the bridge,&uot; Barlow said. &uot;It would take too much money to put the bridge back into shape to reopen and …the state has said it would not be willing to take liability for the repairs.&uot;

Repairing the bridge would probably delay getting the new span built, he added.

That comes as good news to Heather Burns, one of a handful of Chuckatuck residents who have found they enjoy having the bridge closed.

&uot;We love it,&uot; said Burns, who lives on Kings Highway. &uot;People are no longer driving past the house at 80 miles an hour; animals aren’t being killed in the road.

&uot;My neighborhood is quiet now. We are so happy it is closed.&uot;