City recommends Kings Highway Bridge alternative

Published 8:07 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

A new Kings Highway Bridge should be built at a 35-foot height over the Nansemond River along Five Mile Road between Godwin Boulevard and Kings Highway, city staff has recommended to City Council. It’s a recommendation that a previous council supported more than 20 years ago.

During a presentation at council’s Oct. 6 meeting, Public Works Director Robert Lewis made the case for the Five Mile Road span instead of proposing a new span over the same area as the old bridge, which was built in 1926, removed from service in 2005 and demolished in 2007.

That recommendation comes even though 48% of residents favored building at the site of the old bridge, versus 30% who supported building the bridge along Five Mile Road. Another 22% did not want a bridge at any location, though 70% of those who responded said replacing the Kings Highway Bridge with a new one should be a priority, and 65% favored a 35-foot high bridge versus a 65-foot bridge. The city solicited feedback from residents in October and November 2020 on both sides of the river during public engagement sessions and through an online survey.

However, the city is recommending the second option for several reasons — it follows its 2035 comprehensive plan, and it follows a decision of council in 2000 to choose the same alignment as staff is now recommending.

Later in 2000, the city’s General Assembly delegation at that time sent a letter to the Virginia Transportation Board supporting bridge realignment.

Lewis also said a Five Mile Road span would be the best long-term alignment from a transportation and planning perspective, and it would not overload Chuckatuck with added traffic and supports the Chuckatuck Village Plan of a State Route 10/Godwin Boulevard bypass. He said the new span would have the least impact on existing homes and businesses, would draw traffic away from Crittenden Road and create an outlet for overflow traffic on both Bridge Road and the U.S. Route 58 Bypass when incidents take place on Interstate 664.

Lewis also said building a new bridge at the site of the old one would have more cost than initially thought because it’s “probably not truly comprehensive of everything that’s necessary.” If that were the chosen option, Lewis said there would need to be additional roadwork on Kings Highway and in the village of Chuckatuck to support additional traffic.

When the bridge closed in 2005, Lewis said about 3,500 vehicles per day came through the village of Chuckatuck. If a bridge span were there today, Lewis and city staff estimate there would be 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles per day using it.

The cost of the city’s recommended choice, based on 2030 dollar estimates, would be $186.3 million. Lewis said multiple funding options could be available for a new Kings Highway Bridge, including the State of Good Repair and Smart Scale programs through the Virginia Department of Transportation, federal earmarks, General Assembly appropriations, revenue sharing and the federal regional surface transportation program. No money is currently available for the project.

Council previously discussed the issue at its April 7 meeting, when then-Public Works Director L.J. Hansen said the city couldn’t move the project forward until it could answer basic questions such as the height of the bridge and whether there would be money to pay for it.

Five options were presented to council and the public on a new Kings Highway Bridge — options at 35- and 65-foot heights for the original location and the Five Mile Road site, and then the choice not to build any bridge.

Another project, the widening of the Mills Godwin Bridge on Bridge Road in North Suffolk, has been designated a regional and VDOT priority, and has some similar potential funding sources. Lewis said both bridge projects must stand on their own merits to get funding.

Lewis said there are ongoing studies of the Bridge Road corridor from the Chesapeake city line, through Suffolk, into Isle of Wight County and to the James River Bridge, noting that area as a “fast-growing corridor.”

City staff will prepare a resolution for council to consider at its Oct. 20 meeting to include in the 2022 legislative priority package and the 2040 comprehensive plan. Council had declared a new Kings Highway Bridge a high priority on its 2020 legislative agenda.

Lewis, in answering a question from Councilman Donald Goldberg, said it would be too difficult to do an origin and destination survey of traffic in and out of Chuckatuck because the bridge has been out of service too long and people have changed their driving habits.

The city’s traffic engineers and planners, Lewis said, note the volume of traffic along Crittenden Road they would expect to go across a Kings Highway Bridge because people are trying to go north to go east, or make the reverse movement.

“On any given day, I can sit in my office, I can watch the traffic cameras and I can watch (the) 58 Bypass and I can almost tell you to the moment (when) something occurs on the Monitor-Merrimac because … when that occurs, 17 gridlocks pretty quickly, and the only real alternative is to come all the way to downtown and try to get around the 58 Bypass.”

Councilwoman Shelley Butler Barlow, who represents the Chuckatuck Borough, asked whether a Route 10 bypass around the village would be part of the plan with a promised Kings Highway Bridge. Short-term, the answer is no, Lewis said, “but in the bigger picture yes.”

Lewis said people have asked why the four-lane road at Route 10 going toward Isle of Wight County ends at the Reid’s Ferry Bridge and turns into two lanes.

“You could easily see in the not-too-distant future the need for that road to become a four-lane, divided road,” Lewis said. “If we put a four-lane, divided road in Chuckatuck, there will not be a Chuckatuck.”

Lewis said in the Chuckatuck Village Plan, it vaguely talks of ultimately finding a way of routing through traffic on Godwin Boulevard around the village, most likely to the west to preserve the heart of the historic village.

“As we look at that big picture, this alignment seems to match up better,” Lewis said, “so that when you come out, you can go north and around the village and on into Isle of Wight County, or you can turn south and come back to the 58 Bypass and go either east or west.”

Mayor Mike Duman said he was unaware that council in 2000 had, in a resolution, supported the bridge alternative city staff has now proposed. He said the previous presentation from Hansen called for the council to come up with what it wanted for a new Kings Highway Bridge. He also said the public likely wasn’t privy to some of the information Lewis presented, and that by recommending the Five Mile Road option, the city is going against the wishes of a near-majority of people.

Duman said given the information, he understands the long-term rationale in supporting the city’s recommendation. Lewis said it was only recently that he found records in a file room that had been previously lost, ones that Hansen wasn’t privy to while he was with the city. In those records, Lewis found a copy of council’s 2000 resolution.

“To me, it’s a conundrum, if you will, in that we’ve asked the public what they wanted based on the information they had,” Duman said, “the preference was where it was at 35 feet. However, with the additional information that you’ve provided, and the additional rationale, that puts us in a position — or at least it puts me in a position — of going contrary to what the public input was, ‘cause the facts are stating something else.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett said putting a new bridge over its original location would be catastrophic for the village of Chuckatuck. It said it would likely take major money and long-term financing to pay for it once it is built.

“We’re looking at today’s times versus what this is going to look like 50, 60 years down the road, and putting it back where it was at, maybe money-wise might be a smart move, but for the community, it would not,” Fawcett said. “Because I’m telling you that if you put that bridge back where it was at, and you dump that many vehicles plus what we’re going to see in the future … they’re going to go right through the heart of that Chuckatuck village and those people are going to lose it.”