A peaceful Occoquan River supplied the backdrop early Wednesday while overhead the traffic roared, raced and rained small particles on the assembled group under the Va. 123 bridge.
With shovels at the ready, local, state and federal elected and governmental officials ceremonially broke ground for a new, $24.6 million, six-lane bridge that will join Prince William and Fairfax counties.
Cooperation among all levels of government and jurisdictions was the resounding reason officials gave for being able to move the bridge project forward.
“This would not have happened without this cooperation,” Tom Farley, Virginia Department of Transportation district administrator, said to the group of about 30 people.
The existing two-lane bridge, built in 1972 after Hurricane Agnes destroyed the old one, will be replaced by a concrete span that will be three lanes in each direction. The completion date is spring of 2006.
The first span will be constructed downstream from the existing bridge. When it is completed, the existing bridge will be replaced with the second span.
The new bridge will have 10-foot shoulders, a median and a sidewalk on the south side facing the town of Occoquan.
A 640-foot long, 12-foot sound barrier will be built between the travel lanes and the sidewalk on the town side to protect four apartment balconies in the Riverwalk development within the town.
The Riverwalk building will be within 30 feet of the bridge.
“The project especially had to be encompassed into the historic Occoquan District,” Farley said.
To that end, the town formed a bridge committee to work with VDOT to make the bridge as aesthetically similar to the historic nature of the town, which will be celebrating its 200th anniversary next year.
“Where [VDOT] was able to accommodate us, they did,” said Occoquan Mayor Patricia M. Conway. “This would not have been done successfully without the help of our friends.”
The town selected the color of the bridge’s sound wall, the decorative railings and columns, the arched girders, and the brick imprint on the pier bases.
And while many Occoquan residents have worried over the past several years about the impact of a new bridge on the town, they do acknowledge its need.
“This is a project that is long overdue,” Conway said. “It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic [on Va. 123.] This area is growing so fast, they needed to do something.”
According to VDOT estimates, about 32,000 vehicles travel across the Va. 123 bridge daily. By 2020, about 90,000 vehicles will cross the bridge daily.
“Improvements to [Va.] 123 will mean more mothers and fathers can spend less time in their cars and more time at work and at home with their families,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-11th District. “Combine the road and bridge work with improvements to the river itself, and you have the seeds for the rebirth of the town of Occoquan and its neighboring communities.”
Davis has been working for the last several years to secure federal funding for dredging the Occoquan River channel from the Occoquan Bay to the town.
Originally, the plan was to dredge the channel to a depth of 6 feet and a width of 100 feet. Davis said Wednesday that the plan has been modified so that the depth would be increased to 9 feet and the width to 200 feet.
“We think this will offer greater opportunities for the town of Occoquan,” Davis said, by allowing even larger recreational boat to travel to the town of Occoquan to visit.
The height of the new bridge – 44 feet – will also allow larger boats including sailboats to visit the town.
“The relatively small channel [already] supports an amazingly large amount of river traffic, ranging from numerous commercial barges to more than 1,500 recreational boats,” Davis said.
The bridge replacement is the fourth and final phase of the VDOT project expected to cost $117 million to widen Va. 123 from two to six lanes between Burke Lake Road in Fairfax County and the Occoquan River.
“It would have cost a lot more if not for the jurisdictions working together to secure right-of-ways [and other avenues of funding,]” Farley said.
“I realize that this project – coming up with the design, assessing the flow of traffic and protection the town of Occoquan – took a lot of time and effort,” said Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large.
“We have made sure that this project meets the needs of Prince William and Fairfax [counties],” Connaughton said. “The counties, VDOT, everyone has worked together to make everyone satisfied.”