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hours advance notice from mariners prior to opening the span. This allows VDOT to notify motorists of potential delays. Even though it opens infrequently for marine traffic, it is opened twice, once a month (first on shore power and then on gen- erator) for general maintenance, cleaning, and bridge tender training.


Eltham Bridge opening for tug and barge with crane. Photo courtesy of VDOT


led to frequent maintenance issues. Its low deck clearance required openings for even the small- est vessels heading upriver. At 2,337 feet long and with a verti- cal clearance of just eleven feet, its swing span was no longer adequate. A higher, wider, moveable bascule bridge would limit the number of openings and traffic disruptions, and rail service to the paper mill would no longer block the highway at the foot of the bridge. The current Eltham Bridge was built in 2007. At 5,357 feet long and a fifty-five foot vertical clearance, the bridge rarely has to open. The U.S. Coast Guard allows VDOT to request four


The tender house is no longer staffed full-time, but U.S. Fa- cilities provides on-call personnel as needs arise. Opening and closing the bascule bridge (think teeter totter) takes 15-20 min- utes, based on the size and speed of the vessel passing through. In addition to bridge maintenance, log trucks crossing the bridge drop enormous amounts of debris on the bridge daily. Who’s responsible for cleaning up the mess? “VDOT cleans it up once a month and before every opening,” says Alvin Balder- son, VDOT Bridge Maintenance Program Manager. “We pick up the large debris by hand and rent a sweeper truck to clean up the smaller stuff. It’s a public roadway so it’s our nickel”, and ultimately the Virginia taxpayers’. The off-seasons bring the tenders some down time to oc- casionally read or reflect. Nature provides an ever-changing landscape. A bridge tender often catches tiny snapshots into people’s personal lives as they drive over or pass through their bridge. It’s a unique perspective and one of the fringe benefits of the job. H


Special thanks to Kelly Hannon, VDOT Communications Man-


ager, for providing technical information and liaison between VDOT, U.S. Facilities, and myself that made this story possible. Thanks to the Mathews County Public Library.


38


July/August 2017


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