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Judith Stewart Dresser Memorial Bridge To Be Closed to Vehicular Traffic Due to Safety Concern

Date: July 24, 2004


Contact: Jeff Caldwell


Phone:(804) 524-6179

Cell: (804) 586-1446


CHARLES CITY COUNTY—The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will close the Route 5 bridge spanning the Chickahominy River connecting Charles City and James City counties at 7 p.m. today because of growing concern for motorist safety.


Motorists are advised to follow the posted detour until further notice. Eastbound motorists should take Route 155 to Route 60 to Route 614 to Route 5. Westbound motorists should take Route 614 to Route 60 to Route 155 to Route 5. Detours are posted.


VDOT engineers have been monitoring the bridge closely over the recent weeks as multiple maintenance issues have developed. A deteriorating bridge pier has shifted, forcing VDOT to first restrict the bridge to one lane, then prohibit vehicles over three-tons and prohibit bridge openings for over-height river traffic, and finally to close the bridge to traffic today. Despite efforts to halt the deterioration by removing heavy traffic from the bridge earlier this month, in recent days the bridge has shifted another 2 inches. This brings misalignment between the bridge’s fixed and moveable spans to a total of 6.5 inches. 


A team of divers will inspect the bridge tomorrow afternoon in an effort to further identify the cause of the movement and assist engineers in preparing repair plans.


VDOT has made special arrangements with emergency response crews in the area, allowing them to cross the bridge when responding to emergency calls.


“We regret the 63-mile detour motorists will have to take because of this closure, but hope people understand this bridge is deteriorating rapidly and motorist safety is our first concern,” said VDOT’s Richmond district administrator, Thomas A. Hawthorne, P.E. “We are making every effort to fix this bridge as soon as we possibly can.”


VDOT has expedited the repair process by issuing an emergency contract to repair alignment issues discovered over the past few weeks. Using an emergency contract, VDOT is able to award a contractor the project within a matter of weeks, rather than months. A contractor is expected to be on board by July 6.


VDOT has developed an ambitious goal to have the swing-span portion of the bridge operational again in mid-July. This will allow over-height boat traffic to again pass through the bridge. VDOT’s goal is to also restore the bridge to one lane of traffic controlled by a signal in mid-July. Crews will then focus on lifting the weight restriction in early August and finally to fully reopen the bridge to two-way vehicular traffic by the end of August. VDOT is committed to the schedule above, pending the findings of the dive team.


VDOT engineers believe that repeated exposure to heavy truck traffic has likely caused deterioration in the pier supporting the eastern approach span where it meets the moveable section of the bridge. As part of the repair process, crews will drive four new concrete piles into the riverbed and will build a crutch pier to help carry the weight of the structure until the bridge can be replaced. 


VDOT is working with the Coast Guard to notify boaters of the restricted access. Boats that can pass beneath the bridge may still do so, provided they can safely clear the structure. High-tide clearance is 10 to 11 feet, while low-tide clearance is 12 to 13 feet.


The bridge is commonly known as the Barretts Ferry Bridge and was officially named the Judith Stewart Dresser Memorial Bridge in 2003. The swing-span truss bridge was originally constructed in 1939 and carries one lane of traffic each direction. The bridge stands 2,025 feet long with 29 spans and is 24 feet wide from curb to curb. It was constructed using timber pilings and has a concrete and steel driving deck. It functions as a swing-span structure, meaning it pivots on an axis to allow boats to pass through an opening rather than lifting upward as is often the case with drawbridges.


For more information about this bridge and other projects visit



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