U.S. 17 widening delayed, bridge projects still on tap at NCDOT

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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More than 100 projects scheduled to start this year have been put on hold due to a budget shortfall, the North Carolina Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

A budget shortfall of at least $300 million will delay the start of projects including the widening of U.S. Highway 17 north of N.C. Highway 171 to just south of Williamston. The $64.8 million budget for that project will be used instead to assist in balancing the department’s budget.

NCDOT stated traffic volumes have plummeted as a result of lifesaving measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 — people are staying home.

“Because NCDOT revenue is fully funded through the Motor Fuels Tax, Highway Use Tax and DMV fees, this significant impact has forced the department to notify local governments, stakeholders and the general public that all but about 50 major projects scheduled to start in the next 12 months are delayed,” the release reads.

The 56 projects that remain are those funded by GARVEE bonds, BUILD NC bonds and federal grants, which include two bridge projects slated to take place on U.S. Highway 17 Business in Washington and Chocowinity: 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.

Both bridges were discovered to have low sufficiency ratings due to aging infrastructure. The bridge over the railroad tracks was first built in 1941, widened in 1961 to multiple lanes and currently has a vertical clearance of 21 feet, which does not meet the state requirement of 23 feet, according to NCDOT officials. Bridge No. 25 over the Tar-Pamlico River was built in 1928 and is considered a preservation project. Though it was reconstructed in 1966, when its drawbridge was added, it now needs a new 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 work is expected to limit travel on the roadway, as U.S. Highway 17 Business will be closed while the railroad bridge is rebuilt, and traffic on the bridge over the Tar-Pamlico will be narrowed to one lane in each direction.

NCDOT is also taking further measures to balance its budget including laying off temporary and embedded consultants, suspending programs, enacting a hiring freeze and is currently in the process of developing plans for potential furloughs and a reduction in force, according to the press release.