Time to consider a bridge for the power lines

The Virginia Gazette

It seems in almost every-other issue of the Virginia Gazette there is an article concerning arguments for and against the proposed James River crossing of the Dominion Power 500-kilovolt power lines.

Dominion Power says stringing the lines on 17 transmission towers is the most cost effective way to ensure more than 600,000 residents and workers on the Peninsula have adequate power. Preservationists want to keep the river view pristine by requiring Dominion to place the lines under water. Both sides have valid points to support their respective arguments, which is probably the main reason the issue has not yet been resolved.

I have a third option that might satisfy both sides and also be of great benefit to south-side residents and businesses: build an aesthetically pleasing bridge across the James.

The bridge crossing I have proposed for a number of years now, would cross the James River from a point on the Hog Island neck, just below the power plant, to a point just above Fort Eustis where four lanes of road in the Oakland Industrial Park already exist and come near the river. This is almost directly in line with the proposed power line crossing. A bridge, tall enough to allow shipping to pass without having to be a drawbridge, could carry the Dominion power lines.

There are many architecturally beautiful bridges in this country that, far from being intrusive, are considered landmark works of art. One of the best examples that comes to mind is the Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge (Cooper River Bridge) in Charleston, SC, whose suspension system resembles sailing ship masts and sails -- how fitting. A national contest could be established for proposing designs and names for this bridge.

Of course bridges are not build overnight, so the issue of a temporary power-line crossing would still need to be addressed. The towers might be the best alternative, as long as they are temporary and would be dismantled after the power lines are incorporated in the bridge construction.

There are also other benefits to this proposed bridge. A bridge at this location would tie into route 10 in Surry County, which would provide an alternative means for motor vehicles to cross the river (I do not suggest shutting down the ferry). It would also tie into route 617 that extends to route 460 in Wakefield on the south side, and routes 60, 143, 17 and I-64 on the north side, thereby creating a new thoroughfare through Surry County. This would provide more employment opportunities for south-side residents by taking them directly into a more business-dense area. It would also invite much-needed economic and business development into Surry County so residents could work without commuting out or their own community. South-side residents would also benefit by a more direct route to hospitals, an airport, cultural venues and shopping.

By far, I believe the most important argument to be made for a bridge in this location is that it would provide a direct avenue for quick response by north-side assets to an emergency at the Surry Nuclear Power Plant, an otherwise isolated facility. This should be important enough to bring federal funding for this project by a number of agencies including the Department of State, Depart of Homeland Security, Department of Energy and Department of Transportation.

If an English settler from 400 years ago could visit Jamestown today, one of his or her thoughts might be why, in the 21st century, a ferry is still the quickest mode transportation across the river. A bridge that is architecturally beautiful, integrates Dominion's power lines, creates economic development and provides quick emergency response to a nuclear power plant is, I believe, the best option for facilitating a solution acceptable to both Dominion Power and preservation groups.

Thomas A. Patton is the owner/operator of the Aldrich House Bed and Breakfast in Williamsburg and a Surry County property owner.

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