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VDOT lifts weight limit on Norris Bridge after new tests

LANCASTER COUNTY, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has lifted the weight restrictions on one of the two bridges that crosses the Rappahannock River that connects Middlesex and Lancaster counties Friday.

VDOT had imposed a temporary 15-ton weight limit on the 60-year-old Robert O. Norris Bridge on Oct. 25, after an annual inspection identified potential abnormalities in two of the bridge’s pins, which help support the bridge beams and were installed in 2007.

“Further analysis and testing by VDOT’s materials division and the agency’s Research Council identified the cause of the unexpected test results,” said Annette Adams, P.E., VDOT Fredericksburg District Structure and Bridge Engineer said. “Using a combination of additional ultrasound testing, X-ray testing and destructive testing, VDOT has determined that the pins are in good condition, and have no flaws or fractures. The pins will remain on the bridge.”

Adams apologized for inconvenience the limit caused for drivers and businesses over the past three weeks, but stressed that it was necessary after the initial inspection findings.

The agency said the bad test results were likely because the two pins were made with a different steel class than bridge's original pins.

Last week in a CBS 6 Problem Solvers Investigation, reporter Laura French found the weight limit was lowered by 30 tons after an inspection found the possible abnormalities.

However, VDOT officials said ultrasound testing showed that the bridge pins were actually in good condition.

That lower weight limit had forced some drivers to take a detour that turned a two-mile trip over the bridge into an 85-mile journey.

“You get on there with the log truck and you go like this and then like this and it’s scary especially in these trucks.” said business owner Malcom Ransone.

Malcom Ransone

The Norris Bridge is the same type of fracture-critical bridge as the I-35 bridge that failed in 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After the collapse that killed 13 and injured 145, the weight limit on the Norris Bridge was reduced to three tons, two pins were replaced, and an additional protective system was installed.

“That’s the gateway to Lancaster County,” said Ransone.

A gateway, Ransom and others depend on to make a living.

He says 85 percent of his landscaping and tree business’ fleet of vehicles haven’t been permitted on the 60-year-old steel truss bridge.

“Makes me real sad, all because of a bridge,” said Ransone. “We loose anywhere from 10 to $15,000 a week. We’re limited, there’s only so much work in the Northern Neck."

The Virginia State Police enforced the temporary weight limit and detouring non-compliant vehicles 85 miles around the bridge. The trip usually takes 1.8 miles.

“Money, dollar bills, costing twice the amount of money to go around 85 miles,” said Ransone. “You can’t make any profit having to drive 85 miles. Grass seed just went up 15 cent a pound just because the way they had to come in.”

Business owners acknowledge safety must come first for the more than 53,000 people who cross Norris bridge every week, but feel the Commonwealth should have taken other action years ago.

“If they’d started 10 years ago doing some repair work instead of spending 42 million to paint it, and had a bird up there this spring and spent a million to save the bird with a net, it don’t make sense, my tax dollars are not being used to the fullest,” said Ransone. “I think it’s negligence on the Commonwealth of Virginia right on up to the governor that they haven’t even tried to do anything.”

VDOT performs an annual inspection of the bridge. The Norris Bridge is listed in “fair” condition getting a rating of 5 on a scale of 0-9. The Norris Bridge elements are rated as follows, Deck: 5; Superstructure: 5; Substructure: 5. Fair condition is defined by the National Bridge Inspection Standards as “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).”

Robert O. Norris Bridge

VDOT said if any one of these elements earns a “4” on the 0-9 scale during an inspection, defined as poor condition or lower, the bridge is then considered structurally deficient.

All bridges in Virginia are inspected at least once every two years, but the Norris Bridge has an annual inspection of all fracture critical elements, including the pins. The Norris Bridge last received a full inspection in October 2016, and the fracture critical inspection was performed Oct. 9-20, 2017.

A full two lane bridge replacement was just recommended in a study released in October, but VDOT points out it would take 10 years, an estimated $258-million in 2017 dollars and would require a special funding source to replace it.

VDOT said they are committed to keeping it safe and well maintained while researching funding solutions.

Residents started a petition to put pressure on the governor to replace the bridge.​

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