Multiple road closures west of Smithfield

Published 12:24 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

MILL SWAMP — Buxton Wells was relaxing in his easy chair last week happily watching far fewer cars whiz by.

Wells’ lounger is in the garage next to his house on Mill Swamp Road.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Not far from Wells’ house are the Passenger Swamp and the Stalling Creek bridges, both of which are being replaced at the same time.

“I hope they don’t open the bridge back up,” said Wells of the Passenger Swamp Bridge. The detours have reduced traffic in front of his house from what he believes were 200-300 or so vehicles to a trickle.

Meanwhile, Brian Carroll, who lives across the road from Wells and is also captain of the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad, said it has taken a special effort to determine what side of the bridges calls are located on, to make sure emergency vehicles can reach their destination in a timely way.

In all, it’s probably added seven to eight minutes to a call, Carroll said.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“You hope it doesn’t mean anything, but you never really know, I guess,” said Carroll, adding that storms or hurricanes could create a land-locked situation in that part of the county. Carroll pointed out that a dangerous hurricane is currently churning through the Caribbean and is projected to move north.

“His name is Matthew,” he said.

As of Monday, it was not known if Matthew would pose a threat to the east coast or Virginia.

Wells said that before the detours went up, commuters came from Wakefield at what he estimated was 40-50 mph. It was so treacherous, that before he retired, Wells took to backing into his driveway to make it safer to pull out in the morning.

Dan Sexton lives about a half mile away on Stallings Creek Road. He doesn’t mind the extra four miles, or five minutes, it takes to drive the detours to and from Smithfield.

But if someone wasn’t familiar with the area, they may never figure it out, Sexton said.

At certain junctures, there are detour signs for both Stallings Creek and Mill Swamp road with arrows pointing in the same direction.

“You would be in a world of hurt,” he said of trying to follow the detours based on GPS-led directions.

Michelle Justice, who runs Pons Store, said the construction has been a boon of sorts, as work crews stop in for supplies. Justice and her husband initially worried about the effect on regular customers and vendors, but they have adjusted, she said.

But every so often someone from out of town will stop by, confused and asking for directions.

“I tell them to follow the detour signs,” Justice said, adding that her husband put up directional signs to their store to assist customers.

Two soft drink delivery drivers stopped to make a delivery Thursday. One driver said that when the detour signs first went up, he had to ask a farmer in the field for directions. The other driver, who is from Isle of Wight and familiar with the area, is more concerned with navigating the narrow country roads.

Recently the large delivery truck encountered some logging trucks on Green Level Road — one of the detour routes, he said.

“It made you clench up,” he said.

Over at Mill Swamp Baptist Church, Secretary Sheila Epperley said she’s gotten used to the detours, as she lives on Burwell’s Bay Road. A concern for church members is routing rescue vehicles, as well as out-of-towners attending funerals.

That’s a challenge, said Associate Pastor Billy Gardner.

Gardner questioned why VDOT decided to replace two bridges in close proximity at the same time.

“It’s not the greatest of wisdom,” he said.  

Carroll said he keeps his squad vehicle at his house, and that’s its stocked with nearly everything an ambulance has in case the need arises.

Carroll also questions the wisdom of closing two bridges within a mile of each other at the same time.

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors agreed to the dual bridge closure as a cost saving recommendation by VDOT, according to Chairman Rex Alphin. Abernathy Construction was awarded a $1.7 million contract on both projects, and both bridges are scheduled for completed by June 2017.

The completion date has not changed, said VDOT spokesperson Tiffany Whitfield.

VDOT Franklin Residency Administrator Joe Lomax presented the construction plans and bridge closures to the prior Board of Supervisors at its November 2015 meeting. It was part of a listing of upcoming construction projects and the plan was to create a single detour so the neighborhood would not be disrupted twice, Lomax said. Lomax reported when the project would begin and end, but the Board did not question the plans further. 

According to Whitfield, the two bridges both needed to be replaced at about the same time, and they are of the same general construction.

“By combining these bridges into a single contract, the state was able to save money and time by efficiencies of a larger project by purchasing more of the same construction materials and using single mobilization of equipment versus two mobilizations,” said Whitfield in an email.

Whitfield said the detours were selected based on the condition of the existing routes and load postings of bridges in the area.

The shortest route was selected based on these factors, said Whitfield.  {/mprestriction}