BEAUFORT — Nearly four years after construction began on the new North River Bridge, transportation officials hope to open the span to traffic by the end of this month.
N.C. Department of Transportation resident engineer Brad McMannen said work is wrapping up on the long-awaited bridge that connects Beaufort to areas Down East.
“We are working on completing asphalt, guardrail, deck grooving, joints and building shoulders,” Mr. McMannen said in an email to the News-Times Friday. “We don’t have a firm date for opening to traffic, but we are hoping by the end of May.”
The new bridge is aligned directly north and slightly elevated of the existing North River Bridge, which will be torn down sometime after traffic is shifted to the new one.
Construction is being carried out by Orangeburg, S.C.-based Carolina Bridge Company.
The new North River Bridge spans about 1,000 feet over the North River and will carry two lanes of traffic, one in each direction. It is a segment of Highway 70 and the only roadway connection between Down East and the rest of the county.
Construction on the approximately $14.2 million project began in fall 2015, but talks of a replacement bridge began more than a decade ago.
The original North River Bridge was completed in 1959. By the late 2000s, it was apparent the bridge was nearing the end of its lifespan, and in 2009, engineers noted the condition was deteriorating quicker than anticipated due to salt water erosion and tidal action.
At the time, a plan was in place to begin construction on a replacement bridge in 2014, but officials urged the project be sped up, possibly to begin as early as 2012, depending on state funding.
In 2011, engineers deemed the North River Bridge was in “critical” condition and carried out about $1.5 million in emergency repairs to ensure its safety until a new one could be built. They also continued to urge construction of the new bridge ahead of the 2014 schedule.
Despite the repeated calls of concern about the original bridge, construction did not begin until fall 2015, a year after the anticipated start date.
The opening of the new bridge has also been delayed several times over the course of construction. Last year, NCDOT officials predicted the new bridge would be open by the end of summer or fall 2018, but that did not come to fruition. At the time, the scheduled overall completion date was pushed back a year from December 2018 to December 2019, but it is not clear if the project is still on track to be completed by the end of this year with the new opening date.
Officials say much of the delay can be attributed to a yearly “fish moratorium” mandated by the Coastal Area Management Act from mid-February through the end of September. CAMA prevents any in-water work during that time so as to not disturb fish spawning season, leaving a small window of the year during which construction can take place.
County officials have decried the numerous delays and said getting the new North River Bridge open to traffic is a safety concern. In February 2018, the board of commissioners passed a resolution urging the bridge be completed as soon as possible.
Nick Johnson, the eastern representative on the county transportation committee, said he is glad the bridge seems to be opening soon.
“People thought it was going slow at first, but it seems to be coming together as of late,” he said.
Mr. Johnson also noted the construction rarely held up traffic, which was a plus in his eyes.
“It seems to be going smoothly,” he said. “We’re just excited for it to be open.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.