Sunday, June 23, 2024

NCDOT: CF Memorial Bridge work ahead of schedule

A tour and press conference for area leaders are being scheduled within the first two weeks of May, as crews work to finish the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge preservation ahead of schedule. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The deadline for crews to complete construction on the westbound lanes of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is expeditiously moving along.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson Lauren Haviland didn’t have a firm date for lanes reopening. But the state agency is already planning for local leaders to take a tour and see the replacement of the stringers and riding deck that Southern Road and Bridge crews have been working on since January.

According to internal emails sent to the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization members — consisting of area leaders from the tri-county region and municipalities which vote on transportation projects — a special meeting is slated for May 7 at Dram Tree Park. The park is located at the foot of Castle and Surry streets, just at the base of the bridge, and the members will take a tour to see the preservation work.

An email sent to City of Wilmington council members shows two more dates are being considered for a press conference in the park: May 9 or 15. An invitation has been sent for officials to sign up to speak.

Chad Kimes, highway division 3 engineer for NCDOT — who announced he would retire this fall — called it “one of the most anticipated” events of his career in the email.

“It will be a day to celebrate to thank everyone that made this project successful,” he wrote.

Haviland clarified to PCD the May dates are not reopening dates and remain tentative.

“As of this moment, the contract crew is ahead of schedule,” she verified, noting they technically have until May 23 to receive a $500,000 bonus.

Last month, crews finished the eastbound lanes ahead of schedule as well. Construction began at the end of January and wrapped March 26 — one week earlier than anticipated, as to allow motorists easy access to the city for its springtime celebration, Azalea Festival.

All lanes on the bridge opened for 10 or so days before closing the westbound lanes into Brunswick County for the same scope of work. NCDOT officials noted the repetitive framework of replacing the stringers and deck in 12 bays of the bridge helped move it along more quickly.

“Also, with the eastbound closures [in January] contract crews had a lot of prep work to complete before beginning,” Haviland explained.

Traffic in downtown Wilmington, particularly along Third Street, has been backed up for miles, especially during daytime hours. It’s the main corridor from both the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Isabel Stellings Holmes Bridge, the latter of which has served as a main detour during the preservation project.

All left turns along Third at the intersections at Queen, Church, Nun and Orange streets are also barricaded.

However, Haviland said the potential early opening of the bridge isn’t because of increased traffic, per se. NCDOT continues to monitor the signals, particularly at Third Street, to help vehicles move along.

Until the westbound lanes reopen, drivers can access Brunswick County via Isabel Holmes, I-40 to I-140 or the Fort Fisher ferry to Southport.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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