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Coast Guard Reviewing Study Over Bridge Lifts and Traffic in Virginia

The James River Bridge is a four-lane divided highway lift bridge across the James River in Virginia and connects Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula with Isle of Wight County in the South Hampton Roads region. (Photo: Tom Saunders/VDOT)
The James River Bridge is a four-lane divided highway lift bridge across the James River in Virginia and connects Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula with Isle of Wight County in the South Hampton Roads region. (Photo: Tom Saunders/VDOT)

The U.S. Coast Guard is evaluating a Virginia Department of Transportation study of the James River Bridge and will decide over the next several months whether to honor requests to stop bridge lifts during peak rush hour times.

The Coast Guard's 5th District office received the VDOT study on Feb. 26 and will take two to three months to evaluate it, said Lt. Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora. She couldn't comment further on what officials thought of the findings so far.

"It would be premature to say anything at this point," Pecora said on Friday.

The Coast Guard asked VDOT to study the matter in response to a request from state Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, last August to halt bridge lifts from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. to alleviate traffic problems, according to a statement from Morris' office.

"We are simply trying to find a faster and more efficient method to get folks to and from work and back home to their families," Morris said in the statement.

The VDOT study found that an average of 29,400 vehicles have crossed the bridge every day for the past five years, according to the letter to the Coast Guard. About 10,000 of those travel the bridge during rush hours.

"In 2015, the James River Bridge opened on demand 452 times," VDOT said. "One-hundred sixteen (25 percent) of these lifts occurred during the weekday morning and afternoon (rush) hours."

The delays from those rush-hour lifts last year cost $1.29 million in terms of vehicle occupancy, average cost of time spent waiting, commercial vehicle operating cost, cost of wasted fuel and total vehicle hours of delay, VDOT estimated.

Seventeen of the 28 lifts for ships between November 2015 and January 2016 were for military vessels, VDOT said.

The Coast Guard will hold a public comment period if it decides to consider bridge lift changes, Pecora said. It would then take six to 12 months to implement any changes.

"There's a whole bunch of administrative stuff that we would have to do on our end," Pecora said.

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