Occoquan lost from sight?

The town of Occoquan has known for some time that it was going to get a bridge much higher and wider than its current span.

Growing traffic congestion dictated that Va. 123 be widened in Fairfax down to Prince William, so the town and state officials have been tweaking the design to make it blend in as much as possible.

“It’s been a time-consuming thing. We’re going to make it as nice as possible,” said Occoquan Mayor Patricia M. Conway.

Work is scheduled to take two years to finish after the $27 million project is bid to contractors this summer. The first year of construction will build the new northbound span and second year will demolish the old bridge and replace it with a southbound span.

But one small detail out of the town’s control could make the town disappear from drivers’ sight.

Federal rules allow only Letty G. Lynn of Falls Church to have the right to decline a sound wall, since she owns Riverwalk at Occoquan, a Victorian-style, two story commercial building about 30 feet from the future bridge.

“The town doesn’t want it because when you’re on the bridge you won’t be able to see the town,” said town treasurer Winfield C. Frank.

Lynn did not return phone calls to Riverwalk at Occoquan Inc., but her building contains apartments whose residents could be affected by the loudness of closer traffic.

Frank voices what other town officials have downplayed — the town has concentrated on getting along with the Virginia Department of Transportation because the bridge was always going to come and there is little they can do about the wall.

Town officials were given their choice of colors for the sound wall and they went with a white that matches the concrete of the bridge. It will not span the entire length of the bridge, allowing southbound drivers to catch a glimpse of the town.

“Everybody has pretty much reached a stage where they know what is going to happen and accepted it. They realize it’s essential to regional transportation,” said Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs, R-Occoquan. “They [VDOT] bent over backwards to work with the town. In the town, this is an enormous structure.”

The bridge could not be expanded away from the town because of the way Va. 123 approaches the river.

On the positive side: The bridge will not be sloped so that tractor-trailers do not have to rely as heavily on their loud air brakes as they do now coming down the hill from Fairfax, Griggs said. The bridge’s pedestrian walkway will have railings and be lined with electric lights that look like the town’s gas streetlights.

The new bridge will be 45 feet tall, 20 feet higher than the current span, allowing tall boats to sail up the river into town. The bridge will be 172-feet wide, with six lanes convertible to eight, Frank said.

Big changes are due for the town this year other than the bridge, Conway and Frank said.

A $280,000 Riverfront Access project to build a 12-foot-wide wooden boardwalk along 590 feet of river from the Riverwalk property to Mamie Davis Park goes to bid in May and should be done in six months. After the bridge is built, a second phase will extend the boardwalk out to the jetty and add 24 floating docks for boats.

“We’re trying to turn the town to the river,” Frank said. “It’s a place to do things when you have a boardwalk like that.”

On the opposite side of town on the river, the Fairfax County Water Authority will remove the five green water treatment tanks and give room for the town’s $254,000 Mill Street Improvement Project, a roundabout cul-de-sac with brick sidewalks and gas lights.

Three years in planning, the project goes to bid this summer and will be done in six months.

A future river overlook on an acre of land the Fairfax water authority donated could round out this future area for public gatherings.

The town’s water mains will be replaced this summer, requiring extensive excavation of Mill Street. The work will leave the town with a fresh coat of asphalt on Mill Street that it can restripe to be one-way and add slanted parking spaces, more of which can be fit onto a street than parallel spaces.

Congress has provided $3 million for dredging the Occoquan River, and with an additional $1 million in next year’s federal budget they’ll have enough to go forward with dredging so that large boats can make it to town.

The pipe replacement and bridge construction are being timed to not interfere with the town’s Sept. 27-28 craft show whose proceeds are vital to its budget. More than 150,000 people attend the town’s spring and fall shows.

The town has nearly 100 parking spaces under the bridge and VDOT has agreed to keep half available during construction.

“We have met with the town a year straight, going over whatever concerns they had. We going to try to accommodate what we can,” said Prince William VDOT engineer Helen Cuervo. “Unfortunately you can’t build it off site and bring it in.”

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.