The Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) $463 million Nice/Middleton Bridge project is moving right along, and because of the sensitive construction operations underway, there’s a new speed limit in place for Potomac River boaters.
A brand new bridge connecting southern Maryland and northeastern Virginia is being built near the existing one between Charles County, Md. and King George County, Va. A new six-knot speed limit is now being enforced for 0.5 nautical miles north and south of the bridge.
Transportation leaders say calm river waters are essential to keeping construction workers safe and operations on track. In mid-February, crews began lifting and placing massive footing forms to build the new bridge’s foundations. The forms weigh as much as 195 tons (the weight of 135 average-sized cars) and measure 30 feet wide by as long as 52 feet (the size of a small house), MDTA says.
Known as “bathtubs”, the 33 forms are being placed and sealed atop previously-driven sets of piles. (Concrete piles up to 200 feet long and weighing over 200 tons are also still being driven, continuing until late 2021). The bathtubs are lifted into place by two high-capacity floating cranes and eventually will support the columns of the new bridge. MDTA says the bathtubs are part of an innovative forming method that reduces construction time and environmental impact from bridge-building.
Boaters should also be prepared for brief restrictions of vessel traffic in the navigational channel when the bathtubs closest to the channel are placed. It’s best to check with the Coast Guard on the timing of those closures. MDTA reminds boaters to “use extreme caution in the area, steer clear of construction vessels, and slow down to Make No Wake.” Form-placing work is expected to continue until the end of the summer.
The new bridge is expected to be complete in early 2023. As for the old bridge, MDTA spokesman John Sales says crews will work to safely dismantle the existing bridge. Some of the materials will be used to create an artificial fish reef in local waterways. Sales says that’s expected to happen in 2023 and 2024, with planning underway now for the final location of the anticipated reef site.
-Meg Walburn Viviano