Chatham Bridge closing for renovations in late Spring
Guest post by Sonja Cantu, Fredericksburg public information officer
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is preparing to rehabilitate the State Route 3 Business bridge over the Rappahannock River. Also known as Chatham Bridge, it is a main connection between Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg.
Why is the bridge closing now? Built in 1941, the Chatham Bridge is structurally deficient and repairs are needed to improve its overall condition. Its weight limit prevents heavier-weight emergency service vehicles from crossing the river, as well as some commercial delivery trucks. The bridge carries around 16,000 vehicles a day. (Compare this to the Falmouth Bridge, Route 1 Bypass at 35,000 vehicles a day or Interstate 95 over the Rappahannock River at 149,000 vehicles a day.)
According to VDOT, “Virginia’s State of Good Repair program is funding this project, as the bridge has been identified in need of significant maintenance. When work is complete, the project will make it safer and easier for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists to cross the structure.” The bridge closure is anticipated to begin as soon as late May 2020, and remain in place for an anticipated 16-18 months.
What is the history of the bridge? The first bridge on record was built in 1796 by William Fitzhugh, owner of the Chatham property. The 1820 flood necessitated the construction of a new bridge in 1823 by the new owner of Chatham, Major Churchill Jones. However, the bridge only stood approximately three years until 1826 when a flood carried away the entire structure. According to the Virginia Herald, it was considered by many to be “one of our most delightful promenades.” The bridge was rebuilt in 1832 and was eventually burned down by Confederates in April 1862, leaving nothing but the abutments. In July 1866, the bridge was rebuilt by C. S. Scott, and became known as “Scott’s Bridge,” which was destroyed by a great flood in 1889. A steel truss bridge was constructed in 1891, and William Street was raised 15 feet to accommodate the structure. This bridge was wiped out by the flood of 1937 and was eventually replaced in 1941 with the bridge we all know and use today.
What will the new bridge look like? Fast forward to 2020. The existing piers are in good shape and will be reused, with a new deck being built on top. The finished bridge will be approximately 3’7” wider with the same style of church railing and lampposts. A new shared-used path is being added on the downriver side of the bridge (closest to the Old Stone Warehouse), with an overlook bump-out for pedestrians to view the river. It will connect Fredericksburg with Stafford’s Belmont-Ferry Farm trail and will be designated part of the East Coast Greenway, connecting cities from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida.
Where is the detour? Drivers from Stafford will be detoured along the Blue and Gray Parkway to the exit for Dixon Street to downtown Fredericksburg. GPS and private online mapping providers will be kept updated during the project by VDOT so that all tourists and visitors will seamlessly follow the detour into downtown.