Four-day shutdown of James River Bridge won’t start in November

Published 4:41 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

The first of two four-day shutdowns of the James River Bridge won’t be in November.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has awarded an $8 million contract to PCL Construction to replace 80 2-inch-thick wire cables original to the 41-year-old drawbridge. According to VDOT Special Structures Project Administrator Mark Grass, a provision of the contract requires PCL to submit a plan to the state and the Coast Guard at least 45 days prior to the first closure.

In April, VDOT had estimated the two shutdowns – one for each drawbridge tower – would occur between Nov. 15 and 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 traffic lanes would be impassable.

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VDOT still hasn’t announced specific dates for the closures, but due to the 45-day notice required by the contract, “we can safely say that the first closure will not happen in the month of November,” Grass told Isle of Wight County supervisors on Oct. 19.

The contract further prohibits the closures from being scheduled during the Christmas or New Year holidays, he said.

The November-to-February window is intended to avoid impacts to peregrine falcons nesting on the bridge’s north tower. VDOT is prohibited from disturbing the nest from Feb. 15 through July 15.

VDOT engineer Shannon Ternes told the supervisors in April that the drawbridge cables have been rated in “severe” condition since 2012. While the bridge is still safe to operate, the cables are coming to the end of their service life. A failure in even one of the cables could lead to an even longer shutdown while VDOT procures a replacement, Ternes had said.

During each shutdown, 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 from April projected the Godwin bridge would be 31% over capacity during peak morning hours and 35% over capacity during peak afternoon hours, resulting in longer traffic queues from 5-10 a.m. and from 2-8 p.m.

According to Grass, VDOT will stage additional resources at the Monitor-Merrimac to assist with clearing vehicle crashes, and is working with Virginia State Police to have an increased presence at the bridge-tunnel during the closures as well.

Grass said VDOT also plans to have a third ferry on standby at the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry that connects Surry County to the Peninsula.

VDOT representatives also met with Isle of Wight’s emergency management personnel and with representatives of Riverside Health Systems to ensure preparations ahead of the closures.

Brian Carroll, chief of the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad, said in April that his medics transport patients four to eight times per day to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. The closest alternative hospitals best equipped to handle cardiac emergencies, he said, would be either Bon Secours’ Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, an extra 10 minutes away, or an extra 17-minute drive to Centara’s Norfolk General Hospital.

Grass contends Isle of Wight’s EMS personnel are “very resilient” and should be able to maintain operations during each four-day shutdown.

“On a daily basis they’re adapting to major water crossings closing at any given time for an accident,” Grass said.