Lumina News file photo
Overnight closure of the Heide Trask Drawbridge has been scheduled for Sept. 8-11.
Wrightsville Beach residents voiced concerns about the inconvenience, unpredictability and safety of the Heide Trask Drawbridge renovation project to North Carolina Department of Transportation officials during a public meeting on Thursday, Aug. 22.
There are seven scheduled months for remaining renovations, with an anticipated completion date of March 31, 2014.
During the meeting coordinated by Representatives Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) and Rick Catlin (R-New Hanover), the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen, and NCDOT, multiple residents complained about the unpredictability of day and night closures, the dangers of the Wrightsville Avenue and Eastwood Road intersection, Eastwood Road speed limits and the quality of the work.
They also suggested innovative methods of communicating traffic patterns such as bridge tender Tweets when the bridge is going to open or a boat is underway.
“There are other solutions like putting cameras, but this one doesn’t cost anything,” Tom Thompson said.
Sue Bulluck, chairwoman of the Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce, was vocal about the construction.
“I see the problem as a lack of communication,” Bulluck said. “If the second half goes like the first half, then you and I are going to be here in June.”
In a letter, the chamber criticized the work taking longer than projections and wrote seven suggestions for the bridgework, including advocating for the inclusion of a high rise bridge replacement in the long range plan.
Those discussions would likely become part of the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2040 Comprehensive Transportation Plan.
The second request asks for advance notice of the night closures and an hourly ferry to transport tourists and residents across the Intracoastal Waterway.
Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti said he feels the town has been disseminating information as best it can, and admitted town officials were also surprised that the closings have been as often as four days per week.
With the work expected to last between 20-25 years, about 77 -percent of the repairs are complete. The original completion date, March 2013, was first pushed back when the permitting process delayed the construction start from December 2011 until October 2012 and stalled again when $2.5 million of additional work — deck rehabilitation, cleaning and painting — was added to the original $5.65 million project.
Karen Fussell, NCDOT division engineer, said she wanted to stress more than anything else that if the contractor, American Bridge Company, cannot work the date will be delayed further.
“We just do not want to be here in summer 2014,” Fussell said, prompting laughs from residents.
She further explained that on an island like Wrightsville Beach, the town is brought in at an earlier stage with NCDOT projects.
Accommodations are being made again for Beach2Battleship on Oct. 26 to keep three lanes of the bridge open for participants, but Fussell said she cannot promise the same for the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla on Nov. 29-30.
“I don’t ever promise something I can’t deliver,” Fussell said, explaining that the contractor will be working on the epoxy overlay.
The contract between NCDOT and American Bridge includes a deadline and penalty phase for delays, including liquidated damages. But because work was added to the project, American Bridge is not currently being charged those fees. No American Bridge representatives were present during the meeting.
Fussell explained the reason the overnight closures, scheduled from Monday, Aug. 19, through Wednesday, Aug. 21, were not implemented two of the three nights was because the bridge cannot be painted in cold or damp weather.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, the bridge remained open for 24 hours from 7-7 p.m., with no openings for marine vessels. Additional overnight bridge closings are scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 8 through Wednesday, Sept. 11. Beginning on Oct. 1, the bridge will reduce to two lanes to replace the steel grid floor on the north side of the bridge.
This story was updated after it was published online on Aug. 22.