By Debbie Adams
Vinton’s Public Works Department announced in late October that work was about to begin on the “rehabilitation” of Garthright Bridge on Gus Nicks Boulevard—one of the main gateways into Vinton, crossing some 25 feet above the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
The town estimated that the project would take several months to complete and informed the public that there would be lane closures and possible delays for motorists during the project.
Since then, there have been traffic arrows, signs, cones, and Burleigh Construction Co. vehicles in place, along with two closed lanes on the bridge on an almost daily basis—fortunately with very little disruption to traffic—but the question has been—where are the workers?
The answer—they have been working not on the roadway, but beneath the bridge, in the space above the railroad tracks still in use by Norfolk Southern.
The Garthright Bridge project has actually been in the works for several years, beginning with budget discussions on infrastructure improvements since at least 2015. In fact, tall fencing was added to the bridge railings several years ago as a safety improvement.
The rehabilitation project moved to the forefront due to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) “aggressive bridge inspection and safety program” which requires that bridges in the state be inspected once every two years and to the town’s improved financial condition which has allowed funding of long-delayed projects such as this.
Vinton Public Works Director Bo Herndon, says that when the bridge was inspected in June 2021, some potential issues with the substructure and superstructure were noted which didn’t compromise the safety of motorists.
The structure was described as being in “fair condition with hairline cracks in the deck and sidewalks,” along with “hairline cracks and delaminations” in the substructure. It was determined that the expansion joints needed to be replaced “to help deter additional deterioration to the underlying superstructure.”
Inspectors found holes in the base of the web for several girders. There was “heavy dirt and debris” on one abutment; some pavement had separated from the abutment backwall. Vegetation was growing on the structure. Light to heavy rust was noted, mostly due to rain, salt-treated roads, and weathering in general.
Inspectors recommended repairing the holes in the base of the web for eight girders, cleaning and painting all steel within 10 feet of the deck joints and the entire exterior surface to help “deter further section loss to the weathering steel.”
Other recommendations included replacing expansion joints, removing the existing dirt and debris, waterproofing, sealing cracks, repairing approach pavement at both abutments and the north approach sidewalks, trimming vegetation, and installing approach guardrails.
The project was described in the RFP process as “the repair and rehabilitation to the Garthright Bridge over Norfolk and Southern Railroad, including, but not limited to, expansion joint repair, preformed elastomeric expansion joint replacement, structural steel repairs, zone coating of structural steel (including diaphragms and bearings) at the abutments, and maintenance of traffic during the project.”
According to Herndon, the project required jacking up some of the beams underneath the bridge (in the closed lanes and not noticeable to motorists), cutting out the bad spots (generally about 1-2 feet in length), and then welding new steel into place.
Mattern & Craig, Inc., designed the project and have oversight.
The town issued invitations to bid on the project in June 2022. Burleigh Construction Co., Inc. was the low bidder. Town Council awarded them the contract in August 2022. Their final bid was $421,065.
Vinton Assistant Town Manager/Treasurer Cody Sexton says there was one small change to the project, so the new contract price is actually $423,125.
“For a project of this size, it is impressive and a testament to the high quality of the contractor that we have been so close to the original price,” Sexton said.
“The funding for the project came from the use of both general fund and capital fund balances,” he explained. “Last year, as revenues came in stronger than anticipated, we made a conscious effort to use that money to reinvest into the community through capital projects such as the bridge and the additional paving throughout the Town.”
Work on the bridge began in Nov. 2022 and has moved along right on schedule. Completion of the project is expected in late January to early February. Painting underneath the bridge is now underway.
Herndon says that the “rehabilitation” has added 50 years to the life of Garthright Bridge. Re-decking the bridge is the next step in the coming years—an expensive venture—once funds are available.
“We understand that much of our infrastructure is in need of improvement,” Sexton said. “As revenues continue to perform well, we hope to continue to do similar infrastructure investments in the future.”
Some history of the bridge: Dr. Robert Garthright was a physician in the Vinton area from 1889 to 1944. He delivered 1,939 babies during his career. The doctor was well-known for his progressive ideas and pushing the town forward. He was so beloved by the community that they posthumously honored him by naming the bridge as “Garthright Memorial Bridge” when it was built in 1952.
That bridge was torn down in 1983 due to the construction of Gus Nicks Boulevard and replaced with a larger and higher bridge. The brass plaque was transferred to the new bridge on Gus Nicks.