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Major repairs being made to Twigg Bridge

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by Tom Chillemi

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The Twigg Bridge over the Piankatank River is undergoing its first major renovation since it opened in 1953. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

The John Andrew Twigg Bridge that connects Middlesex and Mathews counties is 59 years old. And, the 2,100 foot-long structure has been showing its age for some time.

The first major overhaul of the Route 3 bridge across the Piankatank River began about two months ago and is expected to be completed by May 2014.

The entire driving surface will be replaced, said project manager Vinny Smith of Precon Marine Inc. of Chesapeake. Each new lane will be 14 feet wide—2 feet wider than the current lane. This will be accomplished by removing the narrow “sidewalks” that were part of the original design.

Plans call for replacing the longer, 80-foot-long girders that are part of the middle hump. The longer steel beams make up about 1/3 of the bridge frame. The shorter, 60-foot-long girders will be sandblasted, repaired and painted in place, said Smith.

The first three sections of 60-foot beams on each end will be removed and rehabilitated on a barge. After nearly 60 years, some of the girders are “friction welded” in place on the bearings. Even 1,000 pounds of force by a crane couldn’t break the bond, which eventually had to be cut with a torch.

Smith explained that beams may be rehabilitated in place, or may be removed for repair if that is more efficient.

Smith said that no matter which method is used, the paint, rust and debris that is removed will be collected for proper disposal.

The concrete piers will be repaired to the water line.

The $10.9 million project is funded with 80% federal money, and VDOT will provide the remaining 20%, said Sean Trapani, residency administrator for VDOT’s Saluda office.

New materials
Smith explained that typical bridges built in the mid-1900s have a life span of about 50 years. New and better materials are being used for the overhaul, including corrosion resistant reinforcing bars and lightweight, high-strength concrete that will be cast in place.

Even the paint primer is high-tech, said Smith, explaining that zinc powder is mixed with the primer. The zinc will provide “cathodic” protection for the steel, similar to the way boat “zincs” protect metal on hulls.

One lane of traffic will remain open during construction. Smith said the traffic signals have been adjusted and someone is on-site 24 hours a day to monitor them. In addition, work-site supervisors carry a phone that is dedicated to E-911 dispatchers in Middlesex and Mathews counties so they can notify bridge workers when an emergency vehicle needs to cross. The signals are then switched as the ambulance or fire truck approaches so there is no delay.

Smith said Precon Marine plans to finish the project ahead of schedule and crews are working 10-hour days. Paint-stripping crews are working 7 days a week.

“We hope to finish sooner than the deadline,” said Smith. “It will be better for everybody. When we finish up, you will have a nice smooth ride. You won’t know you’re on a bridge except for the view.”

posted 08.08.2012

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