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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Bridge repair increases commute by 20 minutes, Wave strengthens micro transit into Brunswick  

NCDOT will fund up to $500,000 for the expansion in RideMICRO’s Zone 1, spanning from downtown Wilmington into Brunswick County. Beginning Feb. 19, one vehicle will be added to the zone to enhance service capacity on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. through 7 p.m. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

WILMINGTON — Local leaders are continuing to make adjustments, mainly related to traffic flow, as the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge preservation project enters its third week of construction.

READ MORE: CF Memorial Bridge repair work off to rainy start, delayed due to weather

North Carolina Department of Transportation has monitored the commute among drivers, now detoured to the Isabel Holmes Bridge or I-140 due to the two-lane closure on Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. It is taking drivers roughly 20 minutes more than if all four lanes, NCDOT reported. To reduce congestion more, Wave Transit is bolstering one of its programs to help.

The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority Board of Directors entered into an agreement with NCDOT to expand its RideMICRO service throughout the construction timeline, still on schedule to wrap in May. The preservation will replace the bridge’s stringers for the first time and the grid deck to extend the bridge’s life.

NCDOT will fund up to $500,000 for the expansion in RideMICRO’s Zone 1, spanning from downtown Wilmington into Brunswick County. Beginning Feb. 19, one vehicle will be added to the zone to enhance service capacity on weekdays from 6:30 a.m. through 7 p.m.

At a special meeting to approve the resolution on Wednesday, Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority Executive Director Mark Hairr explained the original proposal also included implementation of a park-and-ride system but was dropped. He said the team decided it was best to implement both things in phases, starting with the RideMICRO.

“We wouldn’t initially implement the park-and-ride because of what we’re seeing, we think that would be a bit of an overkill,” Hairr said at the meeting.

Hairr explained the resolution that passed offers flexibility to add a park-and-ride option in the future if needed.

On Wednesday, NCDOT officials said at a media press conference there were more traffic backups than expected, especially on I-140, during the first week of construction. Currently, the bridge’s eastbound is closed, directing drivers to another route to enter Wilmington. In April, the westbound will close entering into Brunswick County.

Assistant Division Maintenance Engineer Trevor Carroll said the additional 20 minutes adding to the commute  is a number the team was “very pleased with.” 

To alleviate some congestion on I-140, Carroll said the department added to the maximum green-light time at the Castle Hayne exit. 

Both Carroll and NCDOT engineer Joshua Pratt emphasized the preservation project was still on schedule, despite two rain delays. Crews were expected to begin on Jan. 28, but were pushed a day, with Monday’s storms causing work to pause again. Rain will cause crews to suspend work; last month, PCD reported Wilmington’s winter season could experience above-average rainfall due to the effects of El Nino.

It is unclear how many more days could be affected due to weather. Carroll told reporters Wednesday there are “not a lot of float days” built into the schedule, but rain delays are also an expectation on projects like this. 

The contractor for the project, Southern Road and Bridge, has a $500,000 incentive to finish the repairs by the end of May, with that money decreasing every day after. Starting July 1, the company will face a $6,000 penalty for every day work continues past deadline.

Arrival of the materials is on schedule, as incentivized by NCDOT; this week, steel was shipped in for the repairs and the grid deck is expected to arrive on Feb. 20.

Crews will work this week to remove the current grid deck and replace the stringers.

Pratt said the rough schedule is to complete a bay, or set of stringers, every four days, though he noted the first replacement would take the longest as crews find their rhythm. There are 12 bays, so by Pratt’s timing, the eastbound construction would conclude April 2. 

According to NCDOT’s timeline, all lanes are expected to open on March 31 to accommodate traffic to the Azalea Festival, beginning April 3. Westbound work should then commence on April 9.

The two engineers again stressed that work on the bridge is taking place around the clock, even if drivers do not see physical labor happening on the bridge. Carroll said there was lots of “tedious work” that needed to occur aside from the actual replacements, which Pratt reminded everyone was dangerous.

The community can view the latest information and traffic conditions on NCDOT’s website.

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