NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Since March 2020, the restoration project of Borum Overpass has had significant impacts to base parking and base access. But the repair was necessary since the overpass has long affected Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY’s) emergency response. Prior to the restoration, emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks, were unable use the overpass because of the deteriorated structure. Additionally, as a result of overpass inspections, one lane had to be closed to limit the possibility of overstressing the weakened structure.
The Borum Overpass serves as a primary means to enter and exit the south end of the yard. It bridges over the Norfolk and Portsmouth Beltline Railroad, allowing traffic to flow unimpeded by trains. Now that the Borum Overpass has been restored, bridge capacity has increased to allow two lanes of traffic to flow simultaneously over the bridge and the new structure can now support NNSY fire trucks and other response vehicles. Having the overpass restored also reopens two main entry points, Gates 36 and 29, increasing base access and decreasing delays during peak travel times.
The $6,460,230 restoration project replaced three main sections of the bridge and repaired other deteriorated portions of the existing structure. It has been repaved, existing structural steel repainted, and with upgraded lighting and required maintenance also completed.
The Borum Overpass has a unique history dating back to World War II. The original construction of the structure cost $240,000 in December 1942, taking four months to build, and opened to traffic on April 8, 1943 after a dedication ceremony in honor of the bridge’s namesake, John Randolph Borum, who was lost at sea on January 20, 1943.
Borum was employed in the Public Works Drafting Room at NNSY and took an active part in the preliminary layout of the section of the shipyard where the overpass is located today. On April 11, 1942, he resigned to accept a commission as lieutenant junior grade (Lt. j.g.) in the U.S. Naval Reserve, later reporting for duty at the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Chester, Pennsylvania, as the officer in charge of the Armed Guard assigned to the Socony-Vacuum Oil tanker Brilliant.
On Nov. 9, 1942, Brilliant sailed with 112,000 barrels of oil as cargo. Nine days later, as the crew steamed off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, German submarine U-43 torpedoed the tanker. Flames immediately broke out and caused the three senior officers to believe the ship was doomed. As those officers began to abandon ship, including Brilliant’s junior third officer, James C. Cameron, Borum, on his way to his battle station, suggested to Cameron that the general alarm be turned off. Borum had been amused by the hasty departure of the senior officers of the ship. “His (Borum’s) coolness struck me as funny,” Cameron wrote later. “I really had to laugh, and this in itself created in me a feeling of confidence which I would not otherwise have had.”
Cameron, remembering the fire-fighting system onboard from recent study, turned it on, smothering the flames and suppressing the blaze that had endangered the ship. With undamaged engines and 58,000 barrels of her cargo still intact Borum and Cameron got Brilliant underway and headed for the safety.
Cameron wrote on Nov. 24, 1942: “In looking back over the events which have taken place since the torpedo struck and since I assumed the responsibility for the ship’s safety, I would like to record my thanks to every man on the ship for the manner in which they conducted themselves. At the head of the list, Lt. Borum, who in the first place instilled in me a sense of confidence by the casual attitude he assumed when things look worst.”
After voyage repairs, Brilliant was towed to Halifax and on Jan. 20, 1943, during a severe storm, the ship broke in half and sank, taking with her ten men. Two of those men were Junior Third Officer Cameron, and Lt. j.g. Borum, who was later awarded posthumously a letter of commendation from the Chief of Naval Personnel for his heroic work in helping to save Brilliant after she had been torpedoed by U-43.
It was because of Borum’s actions that former fellow workers in NNSY’s Public Works Design Division initiated the movement for the dedication of Borum Overpass and on April 8, 1943. Mr. and Mrs. John R. Borum, parents of Lt. j.g. Borum, unveiled the dedication plaque that is still mounted at the top of the structure today.