Drivers concerned about safety of Norris Bridge

Published: Apr. 19, 2016 at 5:28 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
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LANCASTER, VA (WWBT) - Drivers are raising the alarm about the safety of Norris Bridge after parts of the structure buckled this week.

A 44-foot section of the two mile bridge, which spans over the Rappahannock River between Lancaster and Middlesex, was repaired Monday, when parts of the concrete cracked, the Virginia Department of Transportation says.

Drivers say a repair isn't enough. They say the bridge is too narrow, and not designed to accommodate the more than 8,000 vehicles that pass over it each day.

Maria Johnson crosses the Robert O Norris bridge at least four times a day to drive her children to and from school.

"Here we go. Hold on. Just hold my breath and say a prayer," Johnson says of her feelings when she drives over the structure.

Johnson grew particularly worried on Monday when parts of the top layer of concrete on the bridge began to crack, crumble, and buckle.

VDOT made emergency repairs to 44 feet of the deteriorated surface Monday, but drivers say that's not the only problem.

Lisa Smith says the two-mile-long structure that stretches over the Rappahannock is far too narrow and not designed to accommodate the more than 8,000 vehicles that pass over it each day.

"There is no margin for error," said Smith. It just takes one teen to look down, or anyone to look down at their phone, and go over the line a little bit and into an 18-wheeler or off the side. There is no protection."

According to VDOT, Norris Bridge was designed with a life span of 75 years. The agency says while the layer of concrete on top of the bridge is due for replacement, overall the 59-year-old bridge is safe.

In its most recent inspection, VDOT says the bridge was found to be in "fair" condition, which means "all primary structural elements are sound but may have some minor section loss (due to corrosion), cracking, spalling (deterioration of concrete surface) or scour (erosion of soil)."

However, VDOT says if any part of the bridge earns a "4" during inspection, the bridge is then considered structurally deficient. That was not the case with the Norris Bridge.

Smith and Johnson still have doubts about the bridge's safety, and they are not alone. A Facebook group calling for the bridge's replacement has more than 3,600 members.

Smith understands replacement will take time, but she is afraid someone could get hurt if nothing is done.

"We know it's going to be expensive, but it's never going to go down in price," said Smith. "How do you put a price tag on a life or several lives?"

VDOT has a $15 million paint and maintenance job scheduled for later this year. The agency also has plans to have a contractor look at replacing the concrete top layer of the bridge later this month. VDOT says replacing the two inches of concrete could cost anywhere from $10 to $15 million.

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