VDOT forging ahead with road repairs

Road signs block passage from Georgetown Pike onto Swinks Mill Road in McLean. The roadway, heavily damaged by a July 8, 2019, thunderstorm, will remain closed to through traffic for a few months, Virginia Department of Transportation officials said. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

Northern Virginians who peeked out the window periodically the morning of July 8 probably noticed the dawn did not lift, but instead got darker. Deep-gray clouds finally unleashed their burden around 8:30 a.m., causing significant flash flooding and an estimated $8.5 million worth of road and bridge damage around the region.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has been busy ever since fixing bridges and putting washed-out roads back together.

McLean and Arlington were the areas hardest hit by the storm, said VDOT spokesman Ellen Kamilakis. Kirby and Swinks Mill roads in McLean suffered major damage and will remain closed to through traffic for a few more months while construction contractors make repairs, she said.

On Kirby Road:

• Crews will rebuild a section of the road just south of Claiborne Drive that was washed away and replace other asphalt in the vicinity that was undermined by the storm.

• Workers just after the storm temporarily repaired asphalt on the deck of VDOT’s bridge over Pimmit Run, but crews also will have to fix the bridge’s damaged guardrails, abutments and retaining wall.

• VDOT workers will have to realign  Pimmit Run to its original location.

• A sanitary sewer line and underground utilities along Kirby Road were affected by the storm.

All residents along Kirby Road still have access to their homes, officials said. Damage to VDOT’s infrastructure along the road is not preventing access to any local homes. Homeowners are assessing repair options for a privately owned and maintained bridge across from Claiborne Drive, which sustained severe damage in the storm, officials said.

On Swinks Mill Road:

• Several hundred feet of asphalt approaching the bridge over Scotts Run was damaged on both sides. The bridge deck’s asphalt was destroyed and the span’s guardrails, abutments and retaining wall also were damaged.

• VDOT officials observed debris in Scotts Run and noted the storm had swept away sand and gravel around the bridge’s abutment, a phenomenon known as “bridge scour.”

• The agency installed concrete jersey barriers on Swinks Mill Road to keeps drivers from continuing to move temporary barriers and drive across the damaged bridge.

As with Kirby Road, damage to VDOT’s infrastructure along Swinks Mill Road is not denying any residents access to their homes.

VDOT has begun preliminary designs for the bridges on Swinks Mill and Kirby roads and has reached out to other agencies to coordinate repairs to damaged utilities. Utilities are important partners with VDOT, Kamilakis said. The transportation agency cannot remove trees or other debris around live wires, so officials have to coordinate their timing with power companies.

“We never experience a time with power companies where they aren’t running at full speed, so it ends up just being the volume of calls that might cause a delay,” she said.

The storm also pummeled plenty of other local roads. VDOT officials announced July 25 that about 20 workers with the agency’s flood-repair strike team had completed asphalt milling, paving and shoulder repairs on these 12 Northern Virginia roadways: Barbee Street, Benjamin Street, Beulah Road, Churchill Road, Georgetown Pike, Ironwood Drive, Morningside Drive, Leigh Mill Road, Lorraine Avenue, Prosperity Avenue, Thrasher Place and Valley Wood Road.

VDOT bridge-maintenance crews still are removing debris under and around bridges and from within culverts, officials said.

The transportation agency has completed structural assessments of its bridges and roads and is undertaking survey work to help create a detailed map of current local conditions. This work, along with soil borings to check underground conditions, should be finished in the coming weeks, officials said.

VDOT also is conducting a slope repair on Old Dominion Drive in Arlington and addressing stormwater-pipe failures on Interstate 395 and Kirby and Swinks Mill roads. VDOT maintains only primary roads in Arlington County, Kamilakis said.

VDOT officials plan to apply for any available federal reimbursement to defray the repair costs, she said.

For VDOT officials, the storm’s main lesson was “more of an affirmation of our practice of clearing storm drains, monitoring weather daily, respecting the power of Mother Nature, communicating hazards and staying focused on the safety of residents and crews,” Kamilakis said.

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