U.S. 17 bridge projects, detour on hold

Published 3:00 pm Friday, July 19, 2019

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is putting a hold on two bridge projects that were slated to start in the fall.

The two projects planned for U.S. Highway 17 Business include a bridge replacement over the Norfolk Southern Railroad line, just north of Whichards Beach Road, and extensive repairs to the drawbridge spanning the Tar-Pamlico river coming into Washington.

According to Michael Aman, NCDOT’s Division 2 bridge program manager, the projects were put out to bid, but prices came back way too high.

“The bids came back, and they were above the engineer’s estimate, so we could not award the contract. It was just too much,” Aman said.

Aman said the projects will likely be re-let for bid in February 2020, which means the 18-month-long detour onto the U.S. Highway 17 Bypass for those traveling north into Washington will be put off, as well.

Bridge inspections on both bridges have returned low sufficiency ratings due to aging infrastructure, Aman said in a past interview. The bridge over the railroad tracks was built in 1941, reconstructed in 1963 to accommodate more lanes, and currently has a vertical clearance of 21 feet above the railroad tracks, which does not meet the state requirement of 23 feet. The bridge over the Tar-Pamlico, originally built in 1928 with the drawbridge likely added during reconstruction in 1966, is a preservation project, one requiring deck, asphalt, surface milling and resurfacing, joint repairs where the bridge contacts the road, a retrofitted railing and concrete repairs to the superstructure — the actual part that is driven on — and the substructure, such as the piles beneath.

The NCDOT estimate for both projects was $6,520,189.96. Three in-state firms and three out-of-state firms bid on the projects.

“It looks like it was six folks that bid it, and they ranged from about 20% to 45% higher than the estimate,” Aman said.

The lowest bidder, Zachry Construction Corporation out of San Antonio, Texas, came in at $7,744,580.08. The highest bidder, Reeves Construction Co. in Duncan, South Carolina, bid $9,383,895.14.

Aman said while the plan is to put the projects out to bid again early next year, there are lot of moving parts and factors that will determine when or if the work will happen.

“It’s still a waiting game. We have a timeframe of February of 2020 to re-let it, but there are factors in the background that could play a role,” Aman said. “It’s real hard to speculate whether it will happen — we hope it will — but it’s kind of a ‘wait and see.’”