The thought occurred to me after hearing about the recent weight restrictions on the Robert O. Norris Bridge: our nation’s infrastructure has a huge effect on businesses, but especially in our small towns, like the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula communities. Since there are only two ways to cross the Rappahannock River to the Northern Neck – by boat or bridge – many businesses are suffering, losing thousands of dollars because non-compliant vehicles must detour 85 miles around the bridge. Malcom Ransone is one such business owner effected by the bridge restrictions. He, like many others, depend on that bridge to make a living.
85 percent of Ransone’s landscaping and tree business depends on the Norris Bridge. They lose anywhere from $10-15,000 a week since the restrictions and detours, which make it difficult to get the job done efficiently and cost-effectively. “There’s only so much work in the Northern Neck,” he said. But why all the restrictions, exactly?
Quoted directly from WTVR’s article written by Laura French on November 7, 2017:
The Norris Bridge is the same type of fracture-critical bridge as the I-35 bridge that failed in 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After the collapse that killed 13 and injured 145, the weight limit on the Norris Bridge was reduced to three tons, two pins were replaced, and an additional protective system was installed.
However, after a recent annual inspection revealed potential abnormalities in – again – two of the bridge’s pins that help support the bridge beams, the 15-ton weight limit was imposed by VDOT. VDOT spokesperson Kelly Hannon made the following statement after the announcement:
“Our staff are taking all steps possible to accelerate this pin replacement, as we know the 15-ton weight restriction is affecting numerous businesses and individuals in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula communities. We will announce specific replacement dates as soon as they are available, but at this time, our best estimate is that it may take up to 30 days to manufacture the parts needed for these specific pin locations on Norris Bridge. These parts are manufactured specifically for this location and its dimensions.”
“We know the current reduction is adding significant travel time for heavier-weight vehicles and is affecting numerous businesses and residents. We sincerely regret this inconvenience, as we know the reduction was unexpected and is affecting people’s daily travel. But inspecting these critical elements is our responsibility as the agency charged with ensuring this bridge remains safe and open for travel. This has to be our leading priority, and we have a duty to take the steps needed to protect travelers and maintain this connection between the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.”
Ransone, among others driving big trucks across the bridge, recalls a rough ride. He – and I’m sure many others – complain that it should have been more of a priority ten years ago. They should have spent the money to repair the bridge, rather than paint it recently, or even last spring when they spent a million to save a bird in it. “My tax dollars are not being used to the fullest,” he said. He believes it’s negligence by the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as the governor.
As of right now, based on VDOT’s annual inspection of the bridge, the Norris Bridge is listed in “fair” condition, with a rating of 5 on a scale of 0-9. Fair condition, defined by the National Bridge Inspection Standards, is “all primary structural elements are sound but may have some minor section loss (due to corrosion), cracking, spalling (deterioration of concrete surface) or scour (erosion of soil).” If any of these elements earns a 4 on the scale during an inspection, the bridge will then be considered structurally deficient.
The worry about infrastructure isn’t a new one. This hurricane season, for example, was a tragic reminder of just how important our nation’s infrastructure is for our communities. Repairing it will benefit our economy tremendously, as well as the environment and the protection of these communities. The BlueGreen Alliance recently released a report which found that a $2.2 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure could not only improve and repair our infrastructure systems, but also create new jobs, reduce pollution, and protect public health.
The time for action is now. We can’t waste anymore time talking about it. Residents of Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula communities, for example, have started a petition to put pressure on the governor to replace the bridge. You can find that here.