BUCHANAN CO., VA. (WJHL) — It has been over a year since community members have had a bridge to Big Branch Road (Route 715).
It was damaged during severe flooding in the area over a year ago.
Residents told News Channel 11 it’s been a problem not being able to use the bridge since it’s one of the two access points for those who live in the area.
“We need a bridge more than we need anything over there where we have to go over that mountain and stuff,” said Dennis VanDyke, who lives on Big Branch Road. “If we even had a tree that fell across road, if the state was tied up, we’d be stuck over there where we’re at. And if somebody over there had a heart attack or something.”
People like VanDyke are forced to take routes around the bridge to get anywhere, doubling their travel time.
Area mail carrier, Darlene Osborne, has driven a mail route in the area for years. For the last year, she has had to add an additional hour to her route.
“The maintenance on my car has been very, very bad,” said Osborne. “I’ve had flats. Different things have gone wrong. I mean it’s in the thousands what I have paid.”
She said the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) came in a few days after the flooding and removed the remainder of the bridge. She said a full replacement of the bridge wasn’t needed.
“I feel like it could’ve been fixed,” said Osborne. “Yes, I definitely do.”
VDOT’s district bridge engineer, John Bechtold, said the floods washed out the pier, which is one of the supports in the middle, and the foundation on the far side.
Bechtold said VDOT has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife as they design the replacement bridge. One of the reasons for the slowed process is the presence of big sandy crayfish, an endangered species.
“This river and this portion of the country is the only place in the world that it’s found,” said Bechtold. “So, we’re trying to work through the process to make sure we’re not making a negative impact on those species with this project.”
Another reason for the delay is the coordination required between VDOT and the railway service in the area, according to Bechtold.
Residents find it hard to believe crayfish is a part of the hold-up.
“I’m from this county. I have lived here all my life,” said Osborne. “And I’m sure [the crayfish] were here when the bridge was originally constructed.”
Bechtold said VDOT is working to improve the original bridge’s 1970s design.
“The existing bridge had two supports in the middle, so it was a three-span and one of them would be in the water,” said Bechtold. “By just doing it with one span, or by completing the construction with one span, that pier’s out of the water, and it’s probably going to be less impactful to the aquatic species, the endangered species.”
VDOT anticipates the bridge plans will be approved by the end of 2023. The department plans to begin construction in summer 2024.
VDOT expects construction to take anywhere from six to nine months to complete.