Update: Repairs on Chesapeake highway bridge used by Outer Banks visitors could take "several weeks"
UPDATE - 8:48p.m. Tuesday:
The City of Chesapeake now says it could take several weeks for repairs to the damaged bridge along the main highway through Chesapeake to Eastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks.
"Fixing a bridge of this kind is going to take specialized professionals who will likely need to travel from out-of-state," the city wrote on its website late Tuesday. "At this time, we do not have an exact timeline for repairs, but it will likely take several weeks
Officials said a spud barge - a wide, flat barge used in marine construction - hit and damaged a girder under the bridge Friday afternoon.
They said keeping one of the two lanes closed on the southbound side of the bridge relieves weight to prevent further damage. Engineers are still deciding if further weight restrictions will be necessary.
The city is also working with the Coast Guard to change the lift schedule on bridges along alternative routes.
They'll be asking the Guard to reasess height restrictions on vessels passing under the bridge to prevent this from happening again.
ORIGINAL - 10:44 a.m. Tuesday:
Tourists headed to the Outer Banks may experience heavier than normal traffic before they cross the Virginia state line "until further notice."
That's how long Chesapeake officials say they will have to keep one southbound lane of the Route 168 Bypass Bridge closed after a boat struck the underside of the bridge last week.
The city initially shut down one of the two southbound lanes on the bridge Saturday for emergency repairs. Local and tourist traffic was snared for hours.
Alternative routes to the bridge include a pair of draw bridges on Centerville Road and Battlefield Boulevard. Those already create traffic bottlenecks on occasion.
Route 168, also known as the Chesapeake Expressway, is the primary route to the Outer Banks from Virginia and the Northeast.
Data from the Virignia Department of Transportation indicates about 40,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. During the summer months, weekend traffic is heavy with tourists heading to North Carolina.
City of Chesapeake officials say the bridge is safe but inspectors continued to study the damage Monday.
Engineers are working on ways to deal with additional traffic while allowing work to continue on the bridge.