Bridge opening delayed

March 18, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

First, it was a clay-and-rock-filled crack in bedrock of the Potomac River.

Now, high water levels and a fish spawning season are posing hurdles for construction crews building the $17.7 million James Rumsey Bridge at Shepherdstown.

As construction crews deal with the most recent setbacks, highway officials say the opening of the bridge must be pushed back five months to April 2005.

The bridge had been scheduled to open in November.

In January, a state highways official said an opening had been discovered in the bedrock where the first pier was to be constructed on the Maryland side.


Inside the opening was some softer rock, said Ahmed Mongi, a project manager for the West Virginia Division of Highways.

Mongi said at the time that the opening was typical for the karst geology that exists in the area. In karst areas, it is typical to find underground caves and streams.

Concrete was placed in the opening until highways officials could determine a way to support the pier, Mongi said.

The plan that highway officials came up with to support the pier involved the use of a "micro pile" concept, project engineer Julie Hott said Wednesday.

The work involved drilling through the soft rock until hitting solid bedrock, Hott said.

Holes 7 inches in diameter then were drilled at least 12 feet into the bedrock, Hott said.

Then, 21/2-inch steel rods were slipped into the holes in the bedrock, she said. Forty-eight rods were placed in the bedrock and each of the rods extends up and into the base of the concrete pier, Hott said.

The work is about half complete and it may be finished by next week, she said.

Hott said the pier construction design should provide a solid support for the bridge.

"Of course, that's all been checked out by our design engineers," Hott said.

The pressing issue now is getting the second pier built in the middle of the river, Hott said.

Due to Tropical Storm Isabel last fall and consistent precipitation since then, the level of the Potomac River has been higher than normal, which has delayed construction of a "causeway" to the middle of the river, Hott said.

The causeway is needed to transport construction equipment to the middle of the river to build the second pier, Hott said.

Building the causeway out to the area where the pier will sit will involve dumping stone in the river to make the roadway, Hott said.

Construction crews were hoping to have the causeway built by last fall, but the water levels were too high, she said.

Although the levels have dropped to the point where construction crews might have been able to start work on the causeway, work cannot begin now because of a fish spawning season, Hott said.

Fish spawning takes place in the river from March 1 to June 15, and construction crews will have to wait until it's over to begin construction on the causeway, Hott said.

She said she is hoping the spring season will not bring a lot of rain. If the river level is too high after spawning season, causeway work could again be delayed, and the opening date for the bridge possibly could be delayed again, she said.

"Progress is slow due to the frequent fluctuations of the river level," West Virginia Highway Commissioner Fred VanKirk said.

The existing bridge is more than 60 years old and must be replaced because it is deteriorating.

The new bridge will be lighted and will have an 8-foot walkway. On the Maryland side, a path will extend from the sidewalk leading down the riverbank to the C&O Canal towpath.

The cost of the bridge originally was estimated at $15.6 million, but highway officials referred to the bridge as a $17.7 million project in a press release recently released by the Division of Highways. Hott said the $15.6 million price tag did not include costs such as engineering work.

The extra foundation work required for the pier on the Maryland side will add to the cost, although it was unclear by how much, Hott said.

West Virginia contributed $1.8 million toward the cost and Maryland chipped in $3.7 million. The remaining money came from the federal government, highway officials have said.

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