There have been some concerned citizens worried about the removal of trees and natural habitats along the James River and scenic Riverside Drive for the construction of the replacement for Huguenot Bridge, which was constructed in 1949. A major three-year reconstruction at the estimated price tag of $51 million began earlier this month. The James River Park System has a sign just east of the bridge that may answer many questions:
The New Huguenot Bridge
Wetland forest has been temporarily removed. This will provide space for construction and demolition equipment, supplies and access routes needed to build the new bridge and remove the old one.
The site will be restored with native trees and foot paths, but will also include a broad, shallow pond with grasses and shrubs to handle storm water from the bridge and improve ecological diversity. Work began in the winter of 2010 and is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2013.
The new bridge will be located to the west (upstream) of the current bridge. It will look much like the current one except that it will be wider in order to provide a breakdown lane — a feature that will also make the bridge friendly to bicycles and groups of runners.
The old bridge will be taken down in stages. A lane will be removed from the old bridge once a lane has been constructed on the new one. In this way, there will be no elimination of traffic — although travel delays are obviously to be expected. The old bridge was not designed for the volume and weight of traffic that it gets now and has suffered weakening of it’s concrete and rebar components.
Look for the construction of temporary causeways out into the river. These peninsulas of broken rock will allow heavy equipment to build the footings and piers that will support the bridge. At different times, one will come from the south shore and then later one from the north. They are not safe for public recreation and are sensibly off limits to public use. There is a fine for trespassing.
Something to consider:
There have been some temporary negative effects on wildlife. The removal of some large trees means the loss of some tree cavities that were winter roosts and spring nests for woodpeckers, owls, flying squirrels and the like.
The digging up of root balls has unearthed over wintering turtles, snakes, lizards and their eggs. The former tend to find other homes near by since it is park policy to preserve large and/or standing dead trees. The latter are collected by construction workers and either re-located by park staff or kept for release in the spring. When restored, however, the mix of food plants and next boxes used should create an even richer, more vibrant, and more accessible wetlands environment.