Wrightsville Beach commuters and John Nesbitt Loop users will have to make major adjustments this fall due to bridgework; the Salisbury Street span will close completely for weeks, and the Causeway Drive connector will be the locus of lane closures. The situation could have been worsened. Heide Trask Drawbridge renovations originally scheduled to begin at the same time have now been delayed two months.
"The fall and winter months will be difficult at the very best," said town manager Bob Simpson at the Aug. 11 board of aldermen meeting. Simpson added that the drawbridge project would have impacted traffic flow for special events, school buses and emergency vehicles.
North Carolina Department of Transportation division bridge program manager Amanda Glynn said on Tuesday, Aug. 16, that both Banks Channel bridges were scheduled for resurfacing in October. She explained that the Salisbury Street bridge would need complete closure because it was built in 1957 and required a more extensive latex-modified concrete overlay, while the 1972-model Causeway bridge lane closures were for epoxy application.
Glynn hoped the Salisbury Street repairs would be finished by the end of October and Causeway repairs by the middle of November. She expected the repairs to last about 20 years.
Parks and Recreation program supervisor Katie Ryan said on Tuesday, Aug. 16, that she didnít expect the Salisbury Street bridgework to interfere with the special events already planned for the fall. She explained that the PPD Beach2Battleship triathlon on Oct. 29 would not be affected as the Loop is not part of the route.
The Easter Seals Walk With Me event on Nov. 5 and the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla 5k on Nov. 12 are planned for routes around the Loop. However, Ryan said that NCDOT would open the Salisbury Street bridge walkway for those activities.
"Thatís what weíre working on Ö Thatís the plan," Ryan said.
However, the many people who frequently populate the Loop will have to alter their routines. Ryan suggested that people could travel to one end of the bridge, turn around, and go back the other way instead of making the usual circuit around Causeway Drive, Lumina Avenue and Salisbury Street.
To estimate how many people used the Loop in the fall, she referred to an October 2002 survey conducted by the University of North Carolina Wilmington for three 12-hour days. A total of 1,166 people took the survey, which meant approximately 400 people used the Loop on an average October day.
Also at the Aug. 11 meeting, aldermen decided to set a public hearing for Sept. 8 about whether to have DOT remove the railings from the walkways on the Salisbury Street bridge.
Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Weeks said the railing made it hard for two people to pass, and would interfere with a potential bike path.
Simpson said the bridge was frequently used for fishing. The railings buffer anglers from the Loop users.
Alderman Bill Sisson reminded the group that NCDOT had said if the railings were taken off, they would never be replaced.
Glynn said NCDOT had delayed the start of the 15-month drawbridge project from October to December so the Banks Channel bridges would be finished first. She added that the project would be the first major upgrade for the 1956 drawbridge and she expected the repairs to last another 30 or 40 years.
NCDOT plans stated that the drawbridge would require up to 12 full overnight closures and a number of partial closures. Renovations included replacing the grid floor and the electrical system, as well as rebuilding the bridge tender house with the addition of another floor.
"So, essentially, we will have a brand-new drawbridge there, after all these projects Ö Iím pretty excited," Glynn said.