Bridge nears completion

Published 11:35 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Community Editor

The new bridge over Runyon Creek at Havens Gardens should be open to traffic by the end of the month, and businesses along River Road couldn’t be happier.
Pat Cleve, owner of Fish-N-Stuff, is optimistic that his business will pick up at his long-standing seafood market once the new bridge opens. In an interview earlier this year, he said business had been down some 30 percent to 40 percent since the bridge closed for replacement in May 2009.
“We’re still hanging in there,” he said.
Cleve said he’s probably lost a lot of customers from downtown Washington to other seafood markets since the bridge closed.
“I’m afraid a lot of my customers coming over the bridge from Washington got used to going somewhere else,” he said.
To lure them back, he plans to advertise once the new bridge opens.
John Gooch, manager of the Piggly Wiggly on River Road, said he’s “excited” about the imminent opening. He hopes it will afford him the opportunity to hire additional help.
“I’d love to hire more people,” he said. “It’s, hopefully, a chance to see our business grow, rather than maintain.”
Sales have been down 10 percent since the bridge closed, he added.
John Langley, owner of Shop-Eze Sentry Hardware on River Road, said he, as well as his customers, are growing impatient with the bridge project.
“I hope it will hurry up and open,” he said, adding that its closing has dominated conversations in his hardware store.
Overall, Langley said, business has been down 30 percent to 40 percent since the project started. He said sales picked up in March, as they usually do during the planting season, but they have tapered off since.
“I hope it (business) will pick up. We feel like it will,” he said.
Joey Brickhouse, an assistant resident engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, said that the opening of the new bridge to traffic depends on the weather, specifically heavy rain storms. He said the heat, regardless of how brutal, will not hamper the project schedule.
He praised Sanford Contractors, the construction company in charge of the project, for working through the heat. On Wednesday, he said the company was slightly ahead of schedule for completing the project.
“They’ve done a really good job keeping on schedule,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the work Sanford has done for us.”
Brickhouse said he wasn’t sure if DOT would formally announce the opening of the new bridge, adding that such a decision would be made by resident engineer Bill Kincannon, who is out of the DOT office this week.
Brickhouse said Sanford has a “little bit” of concrete and asphalt work left to do. That work is associated with the sections of N.C. Highway 32 that lead to both sides of the bridge. Workers also have to install a guardrail, seed and mulch the project area and erect road signs.
After Sanford is done, DOT conduct a final inspection of the bridge.
“Then it will be open to the public, if it passes,” Brickhouse said.
The project was scheduled for completion by Dec. 31. Work on the project began May 2009.
While the bulk of the $2.82 million, quarter-mile project calls for replacing the bridge, it also includes grading, drainage and paving work mostly associated with approaches to both ends of the new bridge.
When pilings for the new bridge were driven, the contractor also drove pilings for a promenade that will go under the new bridge.
That walkway is part of an overall plan to improve and reconfigure Havens Gardens after the new bridge is built. Those proposed improvements include upgrading the boat ramp and a parking area north of the existing highway.
Plans call for the walkway to be built over Runyon Creek, with the walkway connecting to land on the west bank of the creek. The walkway, estimated to be about 300 feet long, would form something like this bracket: ].
The walkway, which will have observations areas, would connect parts of Havens Gardens that are separated by the highway, allowing pedestrians to move between those areas without crossing the highway. The walkway would also connect boat ramps north of the highway to sections of Havens Gardens south of the highway.