Bridge project is under way

Published 9:03 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Community Editor

BATH — A few days into the Pungo Creek bridge replacement project, one local business owner said he’s already seen noticeably less traffic.
“So far, I can’t say it’s looking good,” said Eddie Cherry, owner of BJ’s Grocery, located at the intersection of Sidney Road and N.C. Highway 99, Wednesday afternoon.
The bridge, which spans Pungo Creek on N.C. Highway 99, has been closed since Monday, and it will remain closed until it is replaced.
It is scheduled to reopen no later than Dec. 2, according to the contract between the N.C. Department of Transportation’s contract with Carolina Bridge Co., said William Kincannon, a resident engineer with DOT.
“We hope to have it done prior to that,” he said.
Kincannon said DOT included an early completion incentive in its contract with Carolina Bridge Co., based in Orangeburg, S.C., but he would not provide incentive details.
“We’re doing everything in our power to get it done as early as possible,” he said, adding that he realizes the bridge closure negatively effects the lives of many people in the area.
The stretch of N.C. 99 that includes Pungo Creek bridge is the shortest route to Belhaven for many people traveling from Bath and Pamlico Beach, according to Belhaven Town Manager Guinn Leverett.
With the bridge out, anyone traveling east from Bath or north from Pamlico Beach to Belhaven must take a five-mile detour around the bridge from N.C. 99 to Sidney Road to Yeatesville Road to U.S. Highway 264. From the mile marker at the intersection of Yeatesville Road and U.S. Highway 264, Belhaven is 10 miles east, while Washington is 20 miles west.
Leverett said many travelers faced with taking the detour could elect to go to Washington to shop or take care of other needs instead of going to Belhaven.
“There’s no question downtown businesses will suffer,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s not another nail in the coffin.”
Leverett called the bridge-replacement project “bad timing” considering the state of the economy and the lack of business already in Belhaven.
He said traffic at his family’s business, Riddick &Windley Ace Hardware, has been slow for some time.
“Trust me, I’m friendly with management,” he said, joking.
On the other side of the bridge, Cherry said he’s going to lose traffic that usually comes from Belhaven. He said most of his customers come from Pantego Township, which includes Belhaven, particularly PotashCorp employees taking the ferry to Aurora on a daily basis.
“We have a pile of those folks come in here on a regular basis,” Cherry said.
He said business at his grocery store and gas station has dropped since Monday.
“I can’t see how it will do nothing but hurt us,” he said, speaking of the bridge closing. “We’re going to hold out and hope for the best.”
Ricky White, owner of White Oak Medical Transport, isn’t as worried about the detour affecting his first responders in the area.
“I haven’t seen an issue yet,” he said.
The medical transport service, headquartered in Windsor, operates a local branch out of the building adjacent to the Belhaven Civic Center. The service responds to calls in Bath Township, including Bath and Pamlico Beach, often, according to White.
White said the detour adds about five minutes to any call in that area.
He said the detour also will slow people, traveling on that section of N.C. 99, who are headed to Pungo District Hospital .
Kevin Holladay, project superintendent, said he’s spoken to “quite a few” residents in the area.
He called the replacement a typical job. He said his crew will remove the bridge decking and use the existing structure to drive piles. Once the new pilings are placed, the old ones will be removed, he said.
DOT awarded Carolina Bridge Co. a $3.8 million contract for the Pungo Creek bridge replacement several months ago.
On Wednesday, the company was awarded a $14.8 million contract to replace the existing bridge on N.C. 99 over Pantego Creek just south of Belhaven.
Work on that bridge may begin as early as June 28, with final completion no later than May 15, 2013.
Kincannon said he expects the company to work on the two bridges at the same time.
“They’ll be in different areas doing different things,” he said. “It’s kind of a good thing.”