City rejects plan to replace bridge

Published 12:32 am Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Washington’s City Council plans to conduct a public hearing about the Charlotte Street bridge before taking any action on removal or a replacement. Work continues on the Brown Street bridge in the background. (WDN Photo/Christ Prokos)

Washington’s City Council, for now, is rejecting the recommendation of the city’s public-works director to replace the Charlotte Street bridge — or remove it altogether — to improve drainage in the Jack’s Creek basin.

The council plans to conduct a public hearing to allow city residents to weigh in on what to do with the Charlotte Street bridge. That hearing likely will be held at the council’s Feb. 27 meeting. The council’s decision came during its meeting Monday.

The three 60-inch-diameter culverts (corrugated metal pipes) installed under the Charlotte Street bridge years ago are inadequate when it comes to handling the increased stormwater runoff in Washington, Allen Lewis, the city’s public-works director, said. Those aging, round culverts should be replaced with four 8-foot-by-80-foot box culverts to better handle stormwater runoff and floodwaters, Lewis said.

“Long story short, one of two things have got to take place, in my mind anyway from an engineering standpoint. We need to either replace the culverts underneath Charlotte Street, which is going to run you in the neighborhood of $800,000 to a million dollars, or take them out and open the creek up,” Lewis said.

Mayor Archie Jennings questioned the need to do anything with the Charlotte Street bridge at present or in the near future.

“Wouldn’t it be just as reasonable while Charlotte Street is still a viable bridge to continue using it as is and address either the replacement of Charlotte Street or the taking out of Charlotte Street when it’s no longer a functioning bridge?”

Jennings said. “In other words, should we be in a big hurry to tear out a bridge that’s still working?”

“You’re one significant storm away from having flooding issues because of the Charlotte Street culverts being undersized,” Lewis replied.

Councilman Doug Mercer asked Lewis to repeat his remark.

“You’re one significant storm away from the Charlotte Street culverts causing a problem, which they’ve been causing,” Lewis replied.

“We couldn’t have had a more significant flood than we had last year during (Hurricane) Irene, I think,” Mercer said.

“I agree,” Lewis replied.

Later in the discussion, Jennings and Mercer said that even with the undersized culverts at Charlotte Street, the city weathered Hurricane Irene last year and Hurricane Isabel several years ago. They said they saw no immediate need to replace the culverts under the existing bridge or remove it.

Lewis said that without replacing the culverts or tearing down the bridge, ongoing efforts to improve drainage farther upstream in Jack’s Creek would go “for naught.” He said the Charlotte Street bridge becomes a bottleneck when Jack’s Creek is swollen with stormwater runoff and/or floodwaters.

Replacing the Charlotte Street culverts is part of the current $3.8 million construction project to improve drainage in the Jack’s Creek basin. Mercer made a motion to have the Charlotte Street bridge part of the project removed from project.

Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson seconded the motion. After the issue was further discussed, Mercer withdrew is motion. That discussion included consideration of deferring the Charlotte Street bridge part of the project.

“The Jack’s Creek drainage basin, as you can tell, covers the better part of the contiguous corporate limits of the City of Washington,” Lewis said.

The project to replace the Brown Street bridge, which the city closed in 2006, because of safety concerns, should be completed by the end of February, possibly earlier in the month, Lewis said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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