Staff photo by Allison Potter
Traffic flows through all four lanes of the Heide Trask Drawbridge on Wednesday, March 19.
All four lanes of the Heide Trask Drawbridge were opened up again during the weekend of March 15-16 for the Wrightsville Beach Marathon.
The lanes remained open for several days after the marathon, mostly due to the inclement weather.
American Bridge Company, the contractor, can close lanes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 6 p.m. until midnight, but from this point forward, all four lanes will be open on weekends from 7 a.m. Friday until 6 p.m. Sunday.
The warming of weather and increase of traffic has prompted residents to voice concerns about drawbridge construction to the Town of Wrightsville Beach and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
Via emails and phone calls, Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said he has seen and heard several concerns.
“It’s mainly: ‘I rode by there and I didn’t see anybody on the bridge.’ Or: ‘Why do they keep closing lanes? Why can’t they keep lanes open? Why can’t they open lanes for the weekends or when it gets warm?’” Owens said. “The contractor has the ability to manage the project and close lanes within certain confines. That’s the way they choose to manage the project.”
Wanda James, assistant resident engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Burgaw office, said the public does not understand workers are not always visible while working underneath the bridge.
“That’s been a common complaint, but when we get those calls we try to explain the best we can that even though you may not see anybody physically under there, they could be in the machinery room, they could be in the electrical room,” James said. “Our main concern is that we can move people and goods. That is our business, with roads and the waterways, and also we want to make that as easy as we can on the citizens. … I will be getting calls for months after we finish up.”
As of the end of February, 96.85 percent of the work was complete. James said painting, the span locks and punch list items still need to be finished. The completion date is still set for Monday, March 31.
“When we’re dealing with contractors and we’re dealing with weather, we anticipate it being March 31, but can we say definitely, for sure? No, because March 31 hasn’t gotten here yet,” James said.
The $8 million project began in December 2011. When work — deck rehabilitation, cleaning and painting — was added to the project, the completion date expanded by one year from the March 29, 2013, date. The additional work means the contractor will not be charged liquidated damages, James said.
No more overnight closures are scheduled or anticipated.
In February and March 2014, overnight bridge closures were planned for four-day periods for three consecutive weeks.
The closure from Wednesday, Feb. 26 to Thursday, Feb. 27 was rained out, and the Wednesday, March 5 closure was canceled. The town is requesting reimbursement for six nights of EMS and fire mobilization costs for nights when closures caused response time to be delayed by more than about 10-15 minutes and depending on the nature of the bridge work, said Frank Smith, Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief.
EMS, including an advanced life support ambulance with two paramedics, comes to $125 per hour, or $750 for six hours. A part-time firefighter is paid $11 per hour, or $66 for the night. There were also firefighter interns stationed on Wrightsville Beach at no charge.
“On the nights when we had the standby coverage in place, we had one emergency medical call for an anxiety attack and then one fire department response for a carbon monoxide emergency in a residence,” Smith said. “Fortunately we didn’t have any exceptionally critical events during the closures.”
An emergency from overnight closures earlier in the project occurred when two major water lines broke, and the person repairing the lines needed to cross the bridge to Wrightsville Beach, James said.
Once the bridge work is complete, Owens said it will be business as usual.
“You will still have some backups once the bridge goes up for boating traffic,” he said.
“It’s a drawbridge, but the good thing is it flushes faster once it is closed, because you’ve got four lanes.”