No dates yet for four-day shutdowns of James River Bridge

Published 1:39 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

The Virginia Department of Transportation hasn’t set specific dates for two four-day shutdowns of the James River bridge this fall and winter.

There are 80 2-inch-thick wire cables, 40 on each of the two drawbridge towers, that are original to the 41-year-old bridge. VDOT briefed Isle of Wight County supervisors in April on plans to replace all 80, which will entail closing the entire bridge to traffic.

In April, VDOT estimated the first of the two shutdowns – one for each tower – would occur sometime on or after Nov. 15, and the second sometime prior to Feb. 15. Each closure would begin at 1 a.m. Friday and last through 5 p.m. the following Tuesday, during which time all four lanes would be impassable.

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VDOT spokesman Timothy Kelley said the agency awarded the contract for the cable replacement project to PCL Construction. The company, he said, will provide its proposed schedule for the closures and backup dates to VDOT and the U.S. Coast Guard for review.

Once approved and finalized, VDOT will communicate the specific dates to the public.

VDOT engineer Shannon Ternes told county supervisors in April that the cables have been rated in “severe” condition since 2012. While the bridge is still safe to operate, the cables are coming up on the end of their service life, he said, noting a failure in even one of the cables could lead to an even longer shutdown while VDOT undergoes a lengthy procurement process to get a replacement cable in place.

The November-to-February window, Terns said in April, was intended to avoid impacts on summer travel and the peregrine falcons nesting on the bridge’s north tower. VDOT is prohibited from disturbing the nest from Feb. 15 through July 15.

During the two shutdowns, traffic from Isle of Wight County headed to Newport News will be detoured through Suffolk across the Godwin Bridge to the I-664 interchange and the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel. A VDOT traffic analysis projects the Godwin bridge will be 31% over capacity during peak morning hours and 35% over capacity during peak afternoon hours, resulting in longer traffic cues from 5-10 a.m. and from 2-8 p.m.

The original two-lane James River Bridge opened in 1928. The current four-lane bridge dates to 1982.