Heat causes Gwynn’s Island bridge to stick open

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Jul 31, 2019 - 03:03 PM

Photo: The Gwynn’s Island bridge’s swing span was stuck in the open position for over an hour on July 21, causing a traffic backup and requiring that crews spray water on the deck to cool it down enough so it could be closed. Photo courtesy Jackie Ingram

The Gwynn’s Island bridge’s swing span was stuck in the open position for over an hour on July 21, causing a traffic backup and requiring that crews spray water on the deck to cool it down enough so it could be closed. Photo courtesy Jackie Ingram

The Gwynn’s Island bridge was stuck open for more than an hour on Sunday, July 21, because of excessive heat, backing up traffic and requiring that a crew from Mathews Volunteer Fire Department spray water on it in order to cool it down enough to be closed.

VDOT spokesperson Darragh Frye said the moveable swing span of the bridge became stuck open at 5 p.m. because the heat caused the steel to expand. Water from the fire trucks cooled down the steel grid deck enough to allow crews to force the bridge to close to boat traffic one hour and 21 minutes later, she said, adding that pumping equipment was staged at the bridge earlier this week for a rapid response in case the problem occurred.

The bridge experienced the same problem on several different occasions last summer, and VDOT held a public meeting in October at the Gwynn’s Island Civic League building to address the issue. At that time, VDOT’s Fredericksburg District Bridge Engineer Annette Adams told residents that VDOT would be making $5 million to $6 million in repairs to the bridge, with work expected to be advertised sometime this spring. She said the center bearing on the pivot pier is slated for replacement because of wear from repeated openings and closings. In addition, she said, the steel trusses and mechanical support members are due for rehabilitation work, along with the bridge’s mechanical and electrical systems. Adams said that one of the diesel engines will be replaced with an electric motor.

Frye said that the project should be advertised for bids late this year or early next year.

Bridge facts

The Gwynn’s Island bridge on Route 223 over Milford Haven was built in 1938 and is the oldest moveable bridge in Virginia. The bridge opens to marine traffic around 3,000 times a year, averaging 12 times a day.

When the bridge is stuck in the open position, crews immediately notify the Mathews County Sheriff’s Office.