Ed. — This story originally appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 13, print edition. The city has since announced that the project is now scheduled to start in late February.
COURTHOUSE — Maintenance for the Pungo Ferry Bridge in southern Virginia Beach is expected to begin in January with the bridge remaining open to traffic on weekdays and – perhaps starting in February – closures of the bridge only on weekends.
The span across the North Landing River dates back to 1991, and it is an important connection for southern Virginia Beach. It links residents, businesses and farms in Blackwater to the Creeds area, and it helps traffic between Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Additionally, the bridge is a driving route that helps connect residents of Knotts Island, N.C., to the Currituck County mainland.
The project has taken into consideration the need of farmers to deliver crops over the bridge, as well as fire protection needs for people served by the rescue stations at Creeds and Blackwater.
Like Knotts Island, Gibbs Woods, N.C., is isolated from the Currituck mainland, and mutual aid is important for public safety in rural communities.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, discussed the project during a district town forum at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
Henley said that, though the project has been funded, meetings with community members last year addressed when the project might be completed by closing the bridge and the city has tried to schedule the project to lessen impacts. Much of the work can be done by using flaggers to direct traffic, she noted, but some requires closing the bridge on weekends to traffic.
“The question to the community was, ‘Would you rather we just completely close the bridge for about two weeks or close it for several consecutive weekends?’” Henley said. “And the community said, ‘Weekends.’ So we actually put it off until this year so we could accommodate the timeframe that the farming community needed to have the bridge open because of the grain elevators and so forth.”
There were also safety concerns related to fire service that were considered last year, too. The project was expected to start this month, with weekend closures for as many as 15 consecutive weekends.
A schedule released by the city Public Works Department said the work will be completed between January and June, with between 10 to 15 weekends that will require the bridge to be closed to traffic. Closures might begin in February, as it stands now.
A more detailed schedule for the work will follow, but the weekend closures, when they begin, are expected to last from 9 p.m. Fridays, until 5 a.m., Mondays, according to the city.
Citizens with questions or who want to be on a list for updates can reach Drew Lankford in public works via email at email@example.com.
Elements of the bridge are considered either good or satisfactory, but the project is part of maintaining the structure, according to a summary of the project in the city capital improvement program.
The Pungo Ferry Bridge work is part of a wider major bridge rehabilitation project funded through the capital spending plan. A sum of $3.85 million in local funding has been set aside for construction and contingencies.
“There’s a lot of concern among the community about what’s going to happen when the bridge is closed,” Henley said during the town hall meeting this month. “But we’ve had a lot of coordination between the fire department, particularly, EMS and public safety to accommodate that because, when the bridge is closed, Creeds and Blackwater won’t be able to go back and forth to serve each other’s area when there is a fire.”
Henley said the city has done a special extension of its mutual aid agreement with Currituck, Co., to help, for example, bring water to rural communities in Virginia Beach. Creeds has a tanker, Henley noted, and Blackwater will have a tanker on weekends.
The fire department will add personnel and apparatus to stations at Creeds and Blackwater. Public safety officials have connected with their public safety counterparts in Currituck and Chesapeake.
“We are staffing up,” Henley said.
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