‘We want it back open’: City says hole in bridge will take months to repair

Oak Hill Road bridge project will take 9 months to complete according to public works.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 8:52 PM EDT
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PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - Oak Hill Road in Petersburg was once the main entrance into Walnut Hills Garden Neighborhood. Still, for months, residents like Alan Sullins have been forced to take a detour because it’s been blocked off with concrete barricades by the city.

“It adds a good five minutes to my commute, so it’s definitely impacting,” Sullins said. “It adds a lot going out of this neighborhood because it’s a major thoroughfare going out, and we want it back open.”

The road has been impacted since April, when residents reported a hole developing in the middle of the road.

In June, the city reached out to a consulting and engineering firm which discovered that the corrugated metal pipe that runs underneath the bridge portion of Oak Hill Road was exposed. Further investigation showed that the intersections of the line were rusting away, allowing the backfill material from the road to enter the pipe, causing a dangerous situation.

Public Works Director Paul Johnson says two of the three 36-inch pipes underneath this bridge on Oak Hill Road were heavily damaged.

According to a presentation shown at the Sept. 6 Petersburg City Council Meeting, the recommendation for a temporary fix was to cut a piece of pipe in half to cover the damaged portions of the pipe below. Still, after the installation was complete, lower water levels showed that the damage to the pipe was much more extensive.

The road was given a 0 grading according to the VDOT scale and immediately closed from travel.

“We investigated, and we found out the cave-in penetrated through the cross pipe,” Johnson said.

That damage has already led bridge inspectors to reduce the weight this bridge can hold from 15 tons down to just three tons, but Johnson says he’s not sure the bridge could even hold that.

Before barricades were put in place, a steel plate was placed over the hole to continue travel on the road. However, despite the temporary fix, Johnson says bridge inspectors determined the road was still unsafe for travel.

“It’s not going to hold three tons at this point, and that load rating was a reduction of a normal load rating previously, and then the latest failure made it be closed,” Johnson said. “A vehicle could get stuck in that pipe, and that could cause depression and collapse the pipe the rest of the way.”

Though the bridge is still safe to travel by foot, the city is actively working to repair the bridge. Johnson says it will take several months because the city is still in the design phase.

“Unfortunately, it’s about nine months due to some permits we have to gather and then the background research of having to do the survey work,” Johnson said.

But residents like Sullins worry if his neighborhood can afford to wait that long.

“My main concern is emergency crews trying to get to us and everything like that, you know fire trucks trying to get to us,” Sullins said. “An extra five minutes could be vital to saving someone’s life.”

The city says it is still trying to determine how much repairs will cost. They say that will become much clearer once the design phase is complete and a bid for the construction contract has been secured.

The city says that notifications were supposed to be sent to affected property owners regarding the survey work being done on the road.

Permanent detour signs that direct residents back to the Walnut Hill Garden using Park Avenue have been placed at the entrance of Walnut Creek Road.