Mind the gap: despite 22 functionally obsolete bridges, area infrastructure is better than VDOT goals

Staff writer

Functionally obsolete, structurally deficient: two ways to describe a bridge that no motorist wants to hear when they drive on an overpass.

In Williamsburg, James City and York counties there are 77 bridges carrying tens of thousands of people daily over waterways and other roadways, according to Virginia Department of Transportation data. Of the 77 bridges, 22 were built to standards no longer considered best practice and one bridge is considered to be in poor condition.

At Queen’s Creek off the York River, one of the two original entrance corridors to the City of Williamsburg, a bridge that carries thousands of cars a day has a problem: it’s structurally deficient, according to VDOT data. The bridge was last inspected on Nov. 29, 2018.

The pavement on the Queen’s Creek bridge on Capitol Landing Road is smooth, but underneath it, the bridge’s superstructure is in need of extra maintenance and eventual replacement, according to VDOT data and spokeswoman Brittany McBride.

Bridges are rated on the conditions of the deck, superstructure and substructure on a 9 to 0 scale. The higher the rating, the better the condition of the bridge. If any component of the bridge is considered to be in poor-or-worse condition, then the bridge is considered structurally deficient. The Queen’s Creek bridge received a score of 4 on its superstructure, earning it a structurally deficient rating.

“The fact that a bridge is ‘structurally deficient’ does not imply that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe,” according to a VDOT bridge condition report.

Originally built in 1941 and last rebuilt in 1944, the Queen’s Creek bridge waits for funding from VDOT’s State of Good Repair program, McBride said.

When funded, the 75-year-old bridge will be completely rebuilt. Only structurally deficient bridges are eligible for the funding.

The project is still in the development phase, McBride said in a text message. There is no cost estimate yet, but VDOT will conduct preliminary engineering and the project will be advertised for a request for proposals in 2022.

Capitol Landing Road has long been an entryway into the city, once as a bustling boat landing, now as a route for motorists to get to Colonial Williamsburg.

City Council slated more than $4 million to reinvigorate the area in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, but it’s unclear if that funding will coincide with bridge work by VDOT.

For VDOT, the Queen’s Creek bridge is an anomaly in the Historic Triangle: Every other bridge is in “fair” or better condition. The bridge is also older than most other bridges.

If a bridge is ever found to be unsafe during an inspection, it is closed, McBride said in an email. As the area’s infrastructure ages — bridges in the Historic Triangle are about 47 years old, on average — VDOT will continue its routine physical inspections at least once every two years.

While in York and James City nearly every bridge is maintained by VDOT, in Williamsburg, the city’s public works department maintains six bridges on its own, according to city engineer Aaron Small.

VDOT maintains most of the bridges and culverts on the Colonial Parkway and at the College of William and Mary, Small said. That’s about three bridges.

Despite the bridges being in good shape, Small said the challenge for the city is maintaining them.

The city has proposed $410,000 for its biennial bridge inspections and repairs over the next five years in its most recent budget proposal. That’s about 2.7 percent of the public works planned expenses for the next five years — both the bridge inspection budget and public works budget have shrunk since the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Inspections remain ongoing at bridges throughout the area. On March 22, the Route 31 bridge over Powhatan Creek was inspected. By the end of April, VDOT will inspect the Route 30 and Queens Drive overpasses over Interstate 64.

James City and York officials declined to comment on bridge inspections and referred all questions to VDOT.

Jack Jacobs contributed reporting.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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