SURF CITY — After a morning ceremony with town leaders and officials of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) — including Chief Operating Officer Bobby Lewis — Topsail Island’s new 65-foot-high, $53 million bridge is scheduled to open to the public at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
According to Surf City councilman Jeremy Shugarts, at noon the island’s iconic swing bridge “will open to boat traffic and stay in that position until dismantled.”
NCDOT resident engineer Trevor Carroll, who worked closely with contractor Balfour Beatty on the project, said daily work remains to be completed until the official opening: including road striping, signs, reflectors on the bridge, paving the roundabouts, and finishing the concrete islands and pedestrian path.
If the work is completed on schedule by Dec. 4, Balfour Beatty will receive approximately $2.85 million from an NCDOT incentive program to finish the project before the original contract’s completion date of Sep. 15, 2019.
The NCDOT will award $10,000 for every day the bridge is finished prior to this date, which would total 285 days if the work is completed by next Tuesday.
According to Shugarts, the bridge’s walkway will open to pedestrians at 8 a.m. followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m.
Plans for the swing bridge
Carroll said Balfour Beatty will begin demolition procedures on the island’s old, iconic swing bridge on Dec. 5 and expects this to be completed by the end of March.
If not finished by this time, the “bottom disturbing activity” of the dismantling process would require a delay on the project until October. This would be enacted to protect the spawning season of Topsail Sound — a primary nursing area for a variety of marine species.
Carroll expects Beatty to follow through with plans to scrap the old bridge.
That wasn’t always the case. Balfour Beatty regional operations manager Jay Boyd had been working with a close friend on plans to repurpose the swing bridge until the man’s death in April of this year.
“We were coming up with a plan,” Boyd said in August. “And then I got a pretty horrific call that he had passed away.”
For Carroll and the NCDOT, the iconic nature of the swing bridge is outweighed by the efficiency and safety that the high-rise will bring for people driving to the island.
“Travelers will not have to stop every hour on the hour because of the swing span bridge,” Carroll said. “[NCDOT] maintenance crews will now have one more bridge off their list to operate 24/7 and maintain. That bridge required a lot of tender love and care to keep running, to keep safe. This will free up a lot of resources for the rest of Pender County.”
Progress is upon us
For Councilman Shugarts, the replacement of the island’s iconic swing bridge is a difficult but necessary cost of keeping up with the town’s fast growth. He said many in the community are still against the new bridge because they hold the old one “close to their hearts.”
“I have mixed feelings. On one side, a sense of sadness,” Shugarts said. “It’s a part of the island, a part of the history of the island. But there are more reasons than not to have the new bridge. It’s the right thing at the right time.”
Shugarts recalled a day in 2017 when the swing bridge broke and a piece of it dropped into the water, and repairs closed one of the island’s two access points for several days, negatively impacting the town’s economy and emergency response capabilities.
“I love the island, I love what the [swing] bridge represents,” Shugarts said. “But progress is upon us … When you develop and grow, progress moves on, and that’s why this new high-rise is important.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com