Jordan Bridge was a tolled highway lift bridge which carried State Route 337 over the southern branch of the Elizabeth River from the City of Portsmouth into the City of Chesapeake in South Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Opened in 1928, it was privately built by an organization led by South Norfolk businessmen Wallace and Carl Jordan. It was later renamed the Jordan Bridge, principally to honor long-standing manager Carl M. Jordan. The oldest drawbridge in Virginia, the 80-year old bridge had reached the end of its useful life by 2008. Faced with diminishing returns on millions of dollars in needed maintenance and unknown reliability, it was permanently closed on November 8, 2008.
A replacement bridge, built with 100% private funds, and paid for by tolls, was approved by Chesapeake City Council on January 27, 2009. The new South Norfolk Jordan Bridge was originally scheduled to be completed by July 2010, but was finally completed and opened for use on October 27, 2012.
Originally known as the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge, the bridge was planned and financing organized by South Norfolk businessman Carl M. Jordan, who operated Jordan Brothers Lumber Co. with his brother Wallace. The Jordan brothers brought lumber from the Great Dismal Swamp to their lumber mill in South Norfolk, and had come to believe that the existing Norfolk County Ferry Service was not dependable enough for the needs of their business, or others in the community.
It was a Waddell & Harrington-type vertical-lift drawbridge and was designed by Harrington, Howard, & Ash (engineers) of Kansas City, Missouri. It was completed at a cost of $1.25 million, and opened on August 24, 1928, as a toll bridge with a ceremony attended by Virginia's Governor Harry F. Byrd.
Many years later, the bridge was renamed for Carl Jordan, who had also served as general manager and executive vice president of the South Norfolk Bridge Commission, Inc., a non-profit corporation organized in 1944 to manage the bridge. Ownership of the bridge was transferred to the City of Chesapeake after the Bridge Commission's indebtedness was finally satisfied in 1977.
Incidents: collisions with ships, mechanical failure
The southern branch of the Elizabeth River is heavily used by ocean-going vessels to reach industrial facilities and a shipyard upstream from the Jordan Bridge. Traffic bound for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway also passes through this point.
The Jordan Bridge was struck by ships several times. On June 2, 1939, an oil tanker struck it, and the east tower and lift span collapsed into the river, injuring two bridge employees, and closing it for more than 6 months. Another major collision of a ship occurred on June 13, 1943. The most recent collision with a ship was in January, 2004.
In more recent years, there were periodic problems with the lift mechanism in addition to occasional collisions. When stuck in the "down" position, navigation for ocean-going vessels was severely inhibited, leading to concerns by shipping companies, ship operators and the U.S. Navy, whose shipyard is just downstream from the span. The equipment was mechanically obsolete, and repair parts were often unavailable.
In recent years, the bridge was heavily traveled during morning and afternoon rush hours by motor vehicle traffic. A substantial portion of those were shipyard workers from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Navy personnel assigned to the ships docked there also commute from homes in the eastern portion of South Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach and a large portion of the City of Chesapeake.
The Jordan Bridge had also served effectively as an alternate route when other key river crossings in the area were congested or closed, most notably after Hurricane Isabel in October 2003 when the Midtown Tunnel connecting Portsmouth and Norfolk was flooded. Tolls on the Jordan Bridge were temporarily suspended, and daily traffic increased by 20,000 vehicles.
As the bridge and its approaches have only one lane in each direction, traffic backups and delays often occurred in more recent years. The Jordan Bridge was the oldest drawbridge in Virginia. Formerly operated by the City of Chesapeake's Department of Public Works, it had a restricted weight limit of 3 tons. Daily toll revenue was approximately $5,000. The toll (collected on the Chesapeake side) for both direction was 50 cents for motorcycles, 75 cents for two axle vehicles, $1.00 for three axles and $1.25 for four axles. There were no facilities for electronic toll collection.
Permanent closing: November 2008
City of Chesapeake officials have stated that replacing the bridge is not being considered. Cost estimates linger in the $200 million range, too much for a bridge that carries about 7,500 vehicles daily and far fewer on weekends. However, a replacement bridge has been considered as part of some long-range regional transportation plans. The Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization has studied the impact of building a new bridge in this location as part of a limited-access highway connecting Interstate 464 in Chesapeake to Interstate 264 (near Frederick Blvd.) and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freeway in Portsmouth.
The toll was last increased on July 1, 2003 to finance several immediate repairs and improvements and launch an evidently ineffective ten-year restoration program to extend the life of the Bridge.
On August 19, 2008, Chesapeake's City Manager William Harrell announced his recommendation that the bridge be permanently closed by the end of the year. The alternative would be an expenditure of $4 million in repairs to the bridge's aging deck and beams within the next year, and an additional $13 million in repairs within the next 10 years.
On October 14, 2008, Chesapeake City Council unanimously decided to shut down the bridge, effective November 8. City officials said the cost to permanently remove the bridge will be $2.3 million. Harrell said "the city cannot handle all of the transportation demands before us." The local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) funded a Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) express commuter bus service from the South Norfolk neighborhood of Chesapeake to downtown Portsmouth and Norfolk Naval Shipyard after the closure of the bridge, but discontinued it in January 2009 due to very low ridership.
Regional transportation funding shortages
According to city officials, there are no funding sources currently identified to replace other bridges, and many other pressing needs, including replacement of the 70-year old Gilmerton Bridge on Military Highway and the Steel Bridge on U.S. Route 17.
In the early 21st century, the Hampton Roads region of Virginia has faced increasing transportation challenges as it has become largely urbanized, with additional traffic needs, and as infrastructure originally built with toll revenues has aged without a source of funding to repair them or build replacements.
The Jordan Bridge and the now-closed Kings Highway Bridge in neighboring Suffolk, each built in the 1920s, are considered locally prime examples of this situation. The cost of the new Jordan Bridge will be recovered through collection of tolls, using only the EZ Pass system.
Leaders in Virginia are currently actively discussing unfunded transportation needs, particularly in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. In Hampton Roads, the possibility of collecting new tolls on certain major facilities (other than the Jordan Bridge) which are currently not tolled is a source of major funding under active consideration as of 2008[update].
The Hampton Roads Transportation Authority (HRTA) was created in July 2007 after enabling legislation was passed in the Virginia General Assembly and the required number of localities approved. However, replacements for the Kings Highway and Jordan bridges are not among the proposed HRTA projects. Further stymieing efforts to raise funds, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that most of the taxing provisions of the HRTA legislation were unconstitutional.
A special session of the Virginia General Assembly convened in June 2008 failed to generate any major solutions.
A New Bridge
In 2008, an unsolicited proposal was received to build a replacement bridge with 100% private funds. The proposal was approved by Chesapeake City Council on January 27, 2009. The Private Bridge developers are Figg Bridge Developers, the company responsible for rebuilding the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN in eleven months following its disastrous collapse in August 2007. Figg Bridge Developers teamed with Britton Hill Partners to provide the necessary financing at no risk to any of the local or state governmental agencies. The project is also considered to be innovative since it will involve the transfer of outright land to a developer for the construction of a major public thoroughfare.
The new bridge has a four dollar toll in each direction (unless an EZ pass is used) and a pedestrian walkway. Plans presented by the developers also indicate the design facilitates an expansion to four lanes, should same be desired at a future date. The new South Norfolk Jordan Bridge was completed and opened on October 17, 2012.
A prefabricated concrete truss fell while being put in place during construction at the Jordan Bridge on June 21, 2012.
- Chesapeake approves plan to replace Jordan Bridge, Virginian-Pilot, January 28, 2009 
- South Norfolk Jordan Bridge officially under construction, South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, December 16, 2010 
- Pickard, Andy (June 2008). "Elizabeth River Crossings Study" (PDF). Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization.
- "Jordan Bridge toll increase becomes effective July 1st" (Press release). City of Chesapeake. 2003-06-26.
- Saewitz, Mike (2008-08-20). "Close the Jordan Bridge, says Chesapeake city manager". The Virginian-Pilot.
- Saewitz, Mike (2008-08-19). "Report: Jordan Bridge should be closed if not repaired soon". The Virginian-Pilot.
- Saewitz, Mike (2009-01-23). "Jordan Bridge bus shutting down due to lack of ridership". The Virginian-Pilot..
- Holden, Tom (2007-06-15). "Isle of Wight vote gives regional roads authority taxing power". The Virginian-Pilot.
- Holden, Tom; Warren Fiske (2008-03-01). "Regional transportation authorities ruled unconstitutional". The Virginian-Pilot.
- Building a bridge, a private venture, Virginian-Pilot, May 14, 2012
- ""Engineers Assess Jordan Bridge Following Mishap".
- Crossing the Jordan: an article with a lot of the bridge's history in Christopher Newport University's Lookout Magazine
- South Norfolk Jordan Bridge Project official website