Eastbound lane closures on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge are set to begin this Sunday at 7 p.m., weather permitting, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
NCDOT officials held a news conference Thursday to update the public on the latest in the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge rehab project, which will replace the road deck and the steel stringers that support it. Chad Kimes, NCDOT’s Division 3 engineer, said that the department is moving as quickly as possible to get the project done while keeping construction personnel safe.
Residents on both sides of the bridge have raised concerns about traffic congestion the closure could cause for thousands that cross the bridge every day. Additional pressure has been placed on the project because Wilmington’s N.C. Azalea Festival falls in the middle of the work schedule. If all goes as planned, NCDOT expects to pause construction during the festival.
The work platform for construction workers under the bridge has been completed by the project’s contractor Southern Road & Bridge LLC, Kimes said. The structure, which resembles a chain-link fence, was built by workers during overnight shifts that started on Jan. 11, Kimes said. However, this is the last portion of the project that is safe enough to work on through the night.
“You can see the work lights that they're using to put in this platform," Kimes said, pointing to a photo of the platform during Thursday's news conference. "But look, just notice the shadows that working at night creates and the hazards associated with that.”
The next lane closure will take place on the inside lanes of the bridge on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. This closure will allow contractors to put in a concrete median barrier that protects workers from vehicles, Kimes said. The next night at 7 p.m., eastbound lane closures are scheduled to begin, but if it rains, the closure will be postponed for safety reasons, Kimes said. This eastbound closure is expected to end by March 31.
The NCDOT has incentives in place to finish the project on time, Kimes said. There is a $500,000 incentive to finish the project by the intended end date of May 23. If the project is pushed to June 28, the incentive shrinks to $200,000. Every day construction continues after June 28, the contractor must pay NCDOT $6,000, Kimes said.
To shrink the project's timeline, NCDOT pre-ordered the main components in the repair. The stringers should begin to arrive on Feb. 12, and the road deck should arrive on Feb. 28, Kimes said. These dates are important because the contractor must complete two weeks' worth of work before the stringers and road deck arrive.
“Every hour of this project is pre-planned,” Kimes said.
The biggest risk for delays is if the stringers and road deck arrive late, he said.
Two detours are established to divert traffic from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. One takes traffic over the Isabel Holmes Bridge and the other detours traffic on Interstate 140. NCDOT contractors completed interstate improvements to the intersection near Isabel Holmes Bridge, giving drivers two right-turn lanes. Another intersection improvement is planned when westbound lane closures begin after the Azalea Festival with a single-lane exit being converted into a dual-lane exit near Isabel Holmes Bridge, Kimes said.
Concerns about cargo trucks getting to and from the Port of Wilmington have been brought up throughout the bridge repair project discourse. Kimes said Drivewyze, a maps application used by truck drivers, is being updated with the bridge project’s detours. Drivers will be instructed to take I-140 to Interstate 40 during eastbound closures and I-140 to Leland during westbound closures. The port has been getting the word out to their truck drivers and adjusting gate schedules to distribute traffic, Kimes said.
Traffic cameras have been placed at detour routes and photos will be updated on ncdot.gov/cfmbrehab
, along with other information on the project like schedule updates and maps. The cameras are not a live feed, but pictures will be taken every three to five minutes to show traffic congestion, Kimes said.
Electronic road signs currently display when lane closures will begin, but once construction starts, several signs throughout the area will display travel times for each detour route.
“If we see an opportunity to speed this up, we're going to speed this up,” Kimes said. “The one thing I will not sacrifice is safety.”