Two-year Cypress Creek Bridge rehab to begin Dec. 4

Published 4:28 pm Monday, November 27, 2023

The long-planned rehabilitation of the Cypress Creek Bridge by Smithfield Station will begin on Dec. 4 and continue through mid-2025, according to town officials and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

VDOT in September awarded an $8.6 million contract to Portsmouth-based Crofton Construction Services, which is planning alternating, single-lane closures during the nearly two-year project, VDOT spokeswoman Kelly Alvord said by email on Nov. 27. The long-term closures could begin as early as Dec. 11, Alvord said.

According to Alvord, the lane that remains open will be narrowed to 11 feet wide and be closed to all wide-load vehicles. Alvord said there will be a signed detour route in place for motorists able to adjust their travel route, directing eastbound traffic to the Route 10 Bypass via Main Street and westbound traffic either to the east side of South Church Street or to the bypass via Benns Church Boulevard.

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The circa-1975 bridge and the bypass are the only routes in and out of the town’s historic district.

Pedestrian bridge access and vehicular access to a parking lot that serves Smithfield Station and Windsor Castle Park “will be closed to accommodate construction activities,” Alvord said. “Occasional temporary, overnight, full closures of the bridge may occur later in the project for beam replacement activities.”

Any full closures “will be scheduled during the periods of lessened impact to the community and communicated in advance to the public,” Alvord said.

VDOT has been planning since 2016 to replace the beams and deck in the first three spans of the bridge, as well as one additional beam, according to past reporting by The Smithfield Times. The work was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed several times and put out to bid in June of this year.

“We’ve known about it for a while,” said Town Councilman Randy Pack, who’s also co-owner of the Smithfield Station restaurant, hotel and marina at the west edge of the bridge.

VDOT uses a nationwide zero- to nine-point scale when evaluating the safety of its bridges, with zero reflecting one that has failed.  A 2018 study by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization the Cypress Creek Bridge’s superstructure a “four,” meeting VDOT’s definition of “structurally deficient.” A structurally deficient rating “does not imply that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe,” but does mean that maintenance is needed, states a VDOT bridge inspections glossary.

Repairing the bridge’s superstructure is “unfortunately a necessity,” Pack said, one which is “going to have an impact” on South Church Street residents and businesses like his.

Pack recalls the lengthy traffic queues that resulted when South Church Street previously saw prolonged alternating lane closures from early 2011 through mid-2012 during the multimillion-dollar Church Street Beautification Project that entailed replacing the road’s sidewalks with brick pavers.

The Times reported in 2016 that VDOT officials, at that time, had estimated an 11- to 12-month construction timeframe with both lanes of the bridge closed for the duration of the project, or an 18- to 24-month timeframe with alternating single-lane closures. Pack and Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad Chief Brian Carroll are each pushing for VDOT to reconsider the single-lane closures in favor of a third option that would entail the bridge remaining open for one-way traffic headed west into Smithfield’s historic district. This traffic would then be able to leave town using the Route 10 bypass where it meets Main Street.

“Our intention is to keep traffic moving,” Pack said.

According to Carroll, the narrow, two-lane stretch of South Church Street through Smithfield’s historic district, which has limited off-street parking, isn’t wide enough to allow an ambulance to pass should traffic come to a standstill, potentially delaying response time during a crisis when every second counts.

“There’s no shoulders; there’s no way to get off the road,” Carroll said.

Carroll said an accident at the foot of the Cypress Creek Bridge roughly five months ago resulted in an ambulance taking just over 10 minutes to make it from the corner of Main and South Church streets to South Church’s 400 block.

Mike and Kristin Wilda, who are building a house in the historic district stretch of South Church Street, say they’d take the single-lane closures over a total shutdown, which Kristin contends “would have been a disaster.” Mike said he’s hopeful that no additional tractor trailers will need to make deliveries to the site of his future home.

“I think more people will use the bypass,” Kristin said.