Main Street motorists cope with traffic from Cypress Creek bridge work

Published 5:25 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Bumper-to-bumper traffic has become a more frequent sight on Main Street since January when Virginia Department of Transportation contractors began a nearly two-year rehabilitation of the Cypress Creek Bridge.

At the request of Smithfield’s Town Council and Isle of Wight County emergency services personnel, VDOT scrapped plans to maintain two-way traffic with alternating lane closures and instead placed barriers narrowing the bridge to a single lane into downtown to avoid delaying ambulance response times.

Now, it can take up to 20 minutes during rush hour to drive the three-quarter mile distance from the corner of South Church and Main streets to Main’s intersection with the Route 10 Bypass, the only remaining way out of the historic district.

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According to Town Manager Michael Stallings, Smithfield has continued to work with VDOT to make changes to the timing of the traffic lights at each end of Main Street.

“It has improved, there’s no denying that,” said Dr. Joey Bikkers, who co-owns Smithfield Physical Therapy Specialists downtown.

Bikkers, however, said it’s still sometimes taking him upwards of 20 minutes to get from his Grace Street office to his home in Smithfield’s Moonefield neighborhood on the east bank of Cypress Creek now that he can’t drive east across the bridge.

Bikkers said he’s also seen an uptick in traffic since January on Grace Street, which runs parallel with Main.

“There’s only one way out, so people are taking any way they can to get there,” Bikkers said.

Tim Ryan, who co-owns Red Point Taphouse on South Church Street less than a quarter-mile from the east end of the bridge, told Town Council members at their Feb. 26 committee meetings he’s seen a 16% decline in business over the past month compared to the same time last year even though his business is still accessible under the new traffic pattern.

Ryan said the flashing VDOT signs at the entrances to town on Battery Park Road and Benns Church Boulevard warning of an eastbound detour are diverting motorists away from South Church Street. He said last week some friends had arrived in town unexpectedly in hopes of visiting his restaurant and later told him they’d turned left onto South Church from Battery Park – away from his business – upon seeing the detour sign.

“There is no detour; if you’re going to the right and coming toward town it’s just a normal drive,” Ryan said.

Town Councilman Randy Pack, who co-owns Smithfield Station restaurant, hotel and marina at the west end of the bridge, said he’s been working with Stallings and Brandon Griffin, the project manager from VDOT contractor Crofton Construction, to address the misleading verbiage on the signs.

Councilman Jeff Brooks and Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad Chief Brian Carroll each say  that making the remaining lane of the Cypress Creek Bridge one-way into downtown, despite the rush hour backlogs, was the right choice.

It’s “worked very well for us for responses to that area,” Carroll said.

Isle of Wight County Schools transportation director Matt Fike said school buses traveling into Smithfield from the new Hardy Elementary on Old Stage Highway are seeing delays at the Route 10 Bypass, especially at its intersection with Main Street. Buses that travel through downtown Smithfield are seeing delays of up to 20 minutes.

“Unfortunately, rerouting would not get the students home any sooner,” Fike said.

Kristin Wilda, an east-end resident who operates the Something Special thrift store on Main Street, said she hasn’t experienced many issues aside from traffic backing up at the Route 10 Bypass intersection. She said she’s been trying to avoid the 4:30-5:30 p.m. surge in traffic.

“Other than that, it’s just getting used to the fact that you have to drive the long way ‘round to get back home,” Wilda said. “What we consider ‘long’ would be laughable to Southside folks, I’m sure.”