DOWN EAST — The new North River bridge opened to two-way traffic this week and crews will soon begin removing the old structure it replaces, wrapping up a project that began nearly four years ago.
Work finished on the new span earlier this month, and crews began directing traffic to the bridge over the weekend. The bridge carries two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, and by mid-week both lanes were open.
The old bridge will be removed entirely, work N.C. Department of Transportation officials have previously said they expect to finish by the end of the year. Construction was carried out by Carolina Bridge Company out of Orangeburg, S.C., for a total cost of $14.2 million.
The new North River Bridge spans about 1,000 feet above the North River, providing the only roadway connection between Beaufort and areas Down East. It is aligned directly north and slightly elevated of the old bridge.
Construction on the new bridge began nearly four years ago in fall 2015, but talks of replacing the old structure began more than a decade ago. The original North River bridge was completed in 1959, and by the late 2000s, officials noted the structure was nearing the end of its life.
In 2009, engineers warned the condition of the bridge was deteriorating more quickly than anticipated due to salt water erosion and tidal action. At the time, construction on a replacement bridge was scheduled to begin in 2014, but officials recommended speeding up the timeline, possibly to begin as early as 2012.
In 2011, engineers deemed the bridge to be in “critical” condition and carried out about $1.5 million in emergency repairs until a new structure could be built. Despite repeated calls and concern over the condition of the original bridge, construction on the new span did not begin until fall 2015.
The opening of the new bridge has also been held up several times over the course of construction. Transportation officials anticipated it would be open by late summer or fall 2018, but the contractor did not hit that target, and construction would continue for about another year.
The entire project, including removal of the old span, was originally scheduled to be complete by Dec. 28, 2018, but that date is now Saturday, Dec. 28 of this year.
NCDOT officials have said much of the delay is due to a fish moratorium imposed by the Coastal Area Management Act to protect spawning fish in surrounding waters. The moratorium prohibits in-water work during the fish spawning season, from mid-February to the end of September, limiting the construction window.
County officials urged NCDOT to try and speed up construction, noting the aging North River bridge was a safety concern. In February 2018, county commissioners passed a resolution urging the department complete the bridge as soon as possible.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.