In less than three years, VDOT plans to restore the historic John G. Lewis Memorial Bridge, and for the most part, residents are in support of it.
Western Loudoun residents trickled in and out of the Waterford Old School on Wednesday night for an open-house public meeting to hear more about a $5.6 million project that will see VDOT rehabilitate the 129-year-old bridge, which carries Featherbed Lane traffic over Catoctin Creek about three miles north of Waterford. While construction on the bridge, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, won’t begin until spring 2021, many residents are eager to see the transformation.
Originally constructed by Variety Iron Works in 1889 to carry traffic on the Leesburg & Alexandria Turnpike, now Rt. 7, over Goose Creek, the bridge was moved to its current location in 1932. Although it was previously able to handle 15 tons, that rating was reduced to 3 tons in 2013 because of its aging condition.
To restore the bridge, VDOT plans to lift the existing truss and install a new wooden deck, steel bridge frame, guardrail, pier and abutments before lowering the truss back on top. That process will take at least 18 months to complete and will use 200,000 pounds of structural steel and 9,000 board feet of 5.125-inch glue-laminated timber, which pound-for-pound is stronger than steel.
According to VDOT Senior Structural Engineer Vicente Valeza, the project manager, the current plan came about after residents strongly opposed an alternative that would have installed a new bridge next to the existing John G. Lewis Bridge, which would have then been converted into a pedestrian walkway.
Although restoring the bridge will cost $1.6 million more than it would have cost to replace it, many are raving about the project, including Featherbed Lane residents Jim and Nancy Colbert. While school buses currently can’t cross the bridge because of weight limits, the Colberts are hopeful that the restored bridge will allow for them to do so.
They also hope the restoration will continue to discourage larger trucks from traversing it because of its 10-foot-wide roadway. Currently, the bridge handles about 60 vehicle trips each day. “This looks like a good compromise,” Nancy said.
Loudoun resident Mitch Diamond said the design should work to preserve the bridge’s integrity while allowing for a greater capacity. “I think VDOT needs a pat on the back,” he said.
Another supporter of the restoration plans is Eleanor Adams, a member of the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee—the same committee that proposed to the Board of Supervisors in 2013 that the bridge be named in memory of Lewis, the former regional representative of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and avid home restorer in Loudoun. “I think this is the best solution,” she said.
Work on the project will be financed through the State of Good Repair—a state program that funds projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board that restore deteriorated and structurally deficient bridges owned by VDOT or localities.
The preliminary engineering has already cost $940,000, right of way acquisition in spring 2020 will cost $130,000 and construction a year later will cost $4.5 million.
To ensure that the bridge retains its historic status, VDOT will update the 1974 nomination form to reflect its existing condition, design the new piers and abutments with faux-stone treatment to mirror the existing abutments and share design plans with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Valeza said the next steps in the process would be to conduct a final field inspection and follow through with right of way acquisitions. Because the two property owners whose land will be affected by the restoration are both supportive of the project, he said that process should take less than a year to complete.
Residents may still provide comments on the project by emailing them to Valeza by Sunday, Dec. 16 at meetingcomments@VDOT.virginia.gov.