Work to begin on new Blackwater bridge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008

FRANKLIN—A contractor has begun to move equipment onto the site, and work is set to begin on the replacement of the Blackwater River Bridge at International Paper.

The bridge, a vital connector between the City of Franklin and Isle of Wight County along Business Route 58, has been repaired and renovated many times since its construction in 1932, according to Joe Lomax, administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Franklin residency.

When work on the project is complete in a little more than a year, though, drivers will be using an entirely new structure.

Lynchburg-based English Construction Co. Inc. won the $4.2 million construction contract. The fixed-date contract requires the bridge to be complete by Aug. 12, 2009.

Lomax said scheduling the work has been tricky because of the need to protect the anadromous fish that use the Blackwater River for spawning. A variety of Blackwater fish species, including shad, are anadromous, meaning they migrate from the ocean into freshwater rivers and streams to lay their eggs.

State and federal environmental regulations require protecting those species. On the Blackwater, that protection translates into a ban on in-water construction activities between Feb. 15 and June 30.

That restriction, Lomax said, probably means that English Construction will begin its work on dry land. Also, he said, dredging the riverbed will be unnecessary for the project.

“They’re raring to go,” Lomax said of the contractor. A crane already has been left at the staging area, just east of the river, across Business Route 58 from International Paper.

Lomax said there are no plans to detour traffic during the project, but he said it is likely that there will be occasional lane closures to accommodate the work.

Considering that much of the work will be done quite close to passing traffic, he asked drivers using the bridge to be especially careful.

“Give the guys working out there a break,” he said. “Please be mindful of the men working out there on the highway.”

The new bridge will be located directly beside the existing one, on its upstream side. By designing it to be built about two feet higher and 75 percent longer than the existing structure, transportation engineers hope the structure will improve the flow of the Blackwater River near Franklin.

Raising the bridge’s elevation will make it less susceptible to flooding and can help slow down the flow rate of the river past Franklin, Lomax said in an interview earlier this year. Both effects could be vitally important in case of future Franklin flooding.

The existing bridge was rated as being in “poor condition” during a 2006 VDOT survey of bridges throughout the Franklin residency, when its superstructure and substructure both received ratings of 4 on a scale of 0 to 9.

A study by the Federal Highway Administration also showed low regard for the safety of the structure that Lomax called “a lifeline into the city,” giving it a sufficiency rating of 35.2 out of a possible 100.

The entire cost of the project, including engineering and right-of- way acquisition, is projected at just under $7 million, according to information on VDOT’s project Web site.

All of that cost will be borne by the state.