Column – Troubled bridge over waters

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

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Old bridges were getting replaced throughout the city in the ’90s. One bridge in particular stole the headlines throughout the late ’90s. In May, the official wheels went into motion to begin the replacement of the Kings Highway Bridge, a 37-year old structure that crossed the Nansemond River near Chuckatuck. According to Tom Hines, director of public works for the City of Suffolk, the structure accommodated approximately 14,000 vehicles a day and about 150 boats a week. “A lot of this traffic is due to the growth in the northern part of the city, including Virginia Power trucks who use it quite a bit. However, the bridge will only take a maximum of 18 tons of weight,” he said. 

While bridges over the water were getting replaced, the rivers required upkeep as well. Navigating a boat through the Bennett’s Creek channel was more easily said than done for many boating enthusiasts in July of ’97. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the waterway in 1992, ongoing monitoring had put up a red flag for continued passage, indicating the need for a more aggressive plan. Now “a number of citizens as well as businesses that utilize the creek have indicated their concern that the situation is becoming more problematic,” read a city staff report. “There is a concern that if the project is not undertaken before the 2001 time frame, the channel to the creek will be impassable by some boating traffic and will have a negative impact on the residents and businesses in that area.”

In October of ’97, ground was broken on yet another new economic development venture. The Bon Secours Maryview Ambulatory Care Center as part of the Harbour View planned development community, was planned to consist of upscale homes, townhouses, condominiums, recreation, and a designated office/business park. The complex will feature an outpatient surgical facility with six operating rooms and a wide range of surgical services. 

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Color filled the skies in April of ’98. The skies over Suffolk were filled with more than 60 colorful hot air balloons.

Vaccines weren’t a new thing in 1998, but a person couldn’t do much to prevent getting the chickenpox until a vaccine against that itchy, blistery scourge of childhood was approved in 1995. Three years later, though, the vaccine still wasn’t in wide use, partly because some parents and pediatricians are hesitant to add another shot to the schedule of immunizations that young children already receive. 

In April 1999, two students in black trench coats swept through suburban Columbine High School in Colorado with guns and explosives. It was by far the bloodiest in a string of school shootings that rocked U.S. communities. The shooting changed the course of school security nationwide. 

The population of Suffolk had been continuously growing, and housing projects were the topic of conversation. “The time for worrying about a housing explosion in Suffolk is now, city officials say. With single family building permits for the first half of the year nearly doubling those issued in 1998, some Suffolk City Council members say growth isn’t the future it’s already here. ‘What appears to be a small wave is in fact a tsunami,’ said Councilman Thomas L. Woodward Jr.”

1999 came with the Kings Highway Bridge still being discussed and argued over. Plans to replace the Kings Highway Bridge were in flux since state transportation officials said they haven’t decided how tall to make the bridge. The structure, with a swing-span draw, sits about 35 feet above the Nansemond River and has needed replacement for some time. In 1997, the Virginia Department of Transportation proposed replacing the bridge with a 65-foot high structure to eliminate the need for a draw. Malcolm Kerley, a VDOT engineer, said “It’s the height of this new bridge that has drawn criticism from the Bridge Point Farms residents, who say it’ll tower over their property and obstruct their views of the river.”

Jen Jaqua is the creative director for the Suffolk News-Herald. She can be contacted at