ActivePaper Archive THE JORDAN New span BRIDGE delivers on a tall order - The Virginian-Pilot, 10/21/2012

New THE JORDAN span BRIDGE delivers on a tall order


Marine traffic comes in all sizes on the Elizabeth River’s southern branch – a heavily industrialized artery that’s part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Height is key to the new span’s design, avoiding the need for drawlifts or tunnels.


A web of 12-inch-thick steel cables threads the interior of the Jordan’s driving deck and columns. The cables are pulled taut, stretched an extra foot and tied off to squeeze the segments together. The new bridge opens to vehicles almost exactly four years after the old one closed.




TOP Bridge builders started on the Portsmouth side and worked their way across the river, assembling concrete segments that were cast on site. This photo is from May.


T.E. “Tom” Jenkins Jr., construction manager/safety director at FIGG, one of the Jordan’s primary builders, stands inside one of the segments that form the driving deck, or superstructure.

A workman chips excess epoxy from seams connecting segments. Each piece is unique, molded to fill a particular spot on a mile-long bridge that not only arcs but also curves.

A truck backs a superstructure segment to its place on the bridge. An average segment weighs 155,000 pounds. A tractor stands by for added braking power.

Solid retaining walls can help ease gephyrophobia – or fear of bridges. Craig Hinson sights a string line before a section of wall is poured on the Jordan.

First party, then pay When The Bridge Bash is Saturday, with bus tours, a 5K run/walk and a fireworks display.

The next day, vehicles can cross for free from noon to 6 p.m. during the “Sunday Drive” preview. The bridge officially opens at 6 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 29.

Cost One-way tolls start at $2 for two-axle vehicles with E-ZPass. Activate an E-ZPass by Oct. 31 and get free weekends through

Thanksgiving. Drivers enrolled in Pay By Plate pay $3, which is deducted from a prepaid account. Drivers without E-ZPass or Pay By

Plate will be sent a bill for $4. Bikes are free.

Info Visit or call 545-3444.

So I can’t pay the toll in cash?

There are no toll takers or booths. The only pay mechanism is a pair of overhead gantries on the Chesapeake side that scan traffic for E-ZPass transponders. Vehicles without one trigger a camera that snaps a license plate photo. The bill, plus handling fee, arrives in the mail. Ignoring it is akin to ignoring a parking ticket.

Will the toll ever go away?

Nope. The Jordan isn’t a public-private partnership like the Midtown Tunnel deal, where the builder-operator gets a specific length of time to collect tolls (in that case, 56 years). United Bridge Partners owns the Jordan and, as with any investment, the bridge is expected to earn money over its lifetime, figured to be at least 100 years .

What can the Jordan do for me?

When traffic chokes the main crossings, the Jordan will offer another option – a chute over the river that can get you from I-464 in Chesapeake to the western portions of Hampton Roads and vice versa.

And starting next year, when expansion and rehab work begins blocking tubes in the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, the Jordan could really come in handy.

Among the drawbacks: The bridge has only two lanes. On its Portsmouth side, the Elm Avenue feeder is sure to be a bottleneck.

Why does it look so scary?

It’s all about elevation, approaches and grades. To avoid the need for a drawbridge or tunnel, the Jordan required a lot of clearance for the ships that use the river. To achieve that kind of height over the channel without an unacceptably steep grade, designers put more curves in the approaches to create a more gradual rise. Once over water, however, the new span follows the same footprint as the old.

What if I’m afraid of bridges or heights?

You’re on your own. Unlike the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the Jordan will not offer drive-over service.

Just how high is it?

We’re not used to much altitude around here. Our tallest building, the Westin at Virginia Beach’s Town Center (413 feet, without antenna), is a lonely spoke on a largely low-rise skyline. Mount Trashmore (60 feet) is our most iconic hill.

And while we have a boatload of bridges, most hover about 15 feet off the water. Until now, our tallest span was I-64’s High-Rise Bridge in Chesapeake (65 feet) – which, by the way, could really use a new name now.

At the peak of the Jordan, drivers will find themselves 169 feet above the river. Bridge measurements, however, are defined by the height of the tallest ship that can pass below. By that standard, the Jordan is 145 feet.

For some perspective: New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is 135 feet; Maryland’s Bay Bridge is 186 feet and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is 220 feet.

Go to to check out an animation and other interactive features about the new Jordan Bridge.



South Norfolk Jordan Bridge; FIGG Bridge Developers; Federal Highway Administration; International Bridge, Turnpike & Tunnel Association; Virginian-Pilot research

original Jordan

Steel truss vertical-lift drawbridge Built in 1928 as part of the King’s Highway, the first continuous roadway from Richmond to the sea Toll: 25 cents, plus 5 cents per passenger Height: 15 feet Construction cost: $1.25 million Financed, owned and operated by private investors, who went broke Turned over to a public bridge commission in 1944 Deeded to Chesapeake in 1977 When the bridge closed in 2008: Was the oldest operating lift bridge in Virginia Number of daily lifts: 20 to 30 Toll: 75 cents

new Jordan

Concrete fixed-span – no lifts, no tunnels Height: 145 feet Construction cost: $142 million 8-foot-wide pedestrian walkway (free) Financed, owned and operated by private investors – just like the original Will be the region’s first all-electronic/ no-cash toll route

parts list

961 concrete piles driven into the ground

323 pier segments stacked into 34 columns

533 superstructure segments strung together to form the driving deck

281 miles of steel cable

OK• SO IT’S NOT THE GOLDEN GATE. And only about 1 in 300 of us will probably be regular users. But in a region rife with ho-hum water crossings – tunnels excluded, of course – the new South Norfolk Jordan Bridge is a real head-turner. It arches over the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River like a mile-long white snake: soaring, graceful, hollow.

Hollow? That’s right. The design cuts weight, cost and improves flex – just one of the interesting details about the latest addition to our skyline.

No doubt, there’s plenty of water under this bridge. Folks argued about it for years: if, when and how we should replace the old one.

But now that it’s here, we might as well enjoy the cool factor. In addition to being the tallest bridge around – by far – the Jordan stands out nationally as well.

Across the country, there are only about 10 bridges like it – privately built, owned and operated for public use. Modern spans over major waterways are usually government property.

What’s up with the name?

Originally called the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge, the old span was later renamed for Carl M. Jordan, a local businessman who played a major role in cobbling together its construction money, then spent years serving on the commission that managed it.

No wonder we’re confused!

One end of the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge is in Chesapeake (South Norfolk is actually part of Chesapeake) and the other end is near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (which is in Portsmouth).

Did part of the bridge collapse during construction?

No. A steel truss used to assemble the superstructure failed, twisting some of the concrete segments it was supporting. A 92-ton piece fell onto land on the Chesapeake side , where it damaged some railroad tracks. Four workers on the bridge suffered minor injuries in the scramble that ensued. The accident set back the project about three months.

Who owns our newest bridge?

United Bridge Partners, a Florida-registered corporation made up of the Jordan’s primary builders (FIGG Bridge Developers and Lane Construction) and the outfit that supplied the money (American Infrastructure MLP Funds).

What’s their track record?

Although the Jordan is the partnership’s first project (its second will be in Chicago), FIGG has built 50-plus bridges in the United States, including North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound crossing and a viaduct on Grandfather Mountain. It also just rebuilt the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, a span that collapsed in 2007, killing 13. The company’s motto is “Creating Bridges as Art.”