KENT JUNCTION - Engineers on Tuesday closed the only traffic lane to a bridge currently under reconstruction on Business Route 23 in Wise County, shutting off through traffic between Appalachia and Norton. Motorists traveling between the two towns can drive U.S. Route 23.
The bridge at Kent Junction was closed to allow engineers to evaluate the condition of the bridge after a four-foot hole formed in the bridge deck overnight. Construction crews have been rebuilding the span and traffic has been restricted to one lane for several months. The Virginia Department of Transportation believes additional traffic on the one lane was a contributing factor.
Located over the Norfolk & Southern Railroad and Roaring Fork Creek near the intersection of State Route 603, the bridge and Business Route 23 largely serves coal trucks, industrial park traffic and local motorists traveling between Norton and Appalachia. The average daily traffic on that section of roadway is about 7,000 vehicles daily, VDOT reported.
Electronic message boards have been placed at appropriate spots at the Appalachia and Norton ends of the route to alert traffic to detour onto U.S. Route 23 between Norton and Big Stone Gap. VDOT said it is too early to speculate when the bridge might be re-opened to traffic, but are working with the construction contractor to restore traffic as soon as possible.
Elk Knob, Inc., of Pennington Gap, was awarded the $2.6 million contract to reconstruct the bridge last June, and began reconstruction last July. The contract includes replacement of two bridge piers and the entire deck. The structure was given a comprehensive inspection prior to the start of reconstruction, VDOT said.