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Done Early: Cape Fear Memorial Bridge To Fully Reopen Wednesday

By Audrey Elsberry, posted May 7, 2024
The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge Rehabilitation Project is expected to be completed weeks ahead of schedule, according to a press conference Tuesday. (Photo by Audrey Elsberry)
The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is expected to fully open Wednesday at 7 p.m., N.C. Department of Transportation officials announced this morning.

The bridge’s opening will come 16 days ahead of schedule, Chad Kimes, NCODT's Division 3 engineer, said during a press conference at Surry Street's Dram Tree Park on Tuesday morning. The reopening will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Kimes said, and traffic patterns will return to their pre-repair project conditions. Efforts to remove the construction crew platform under the bridge will require nighttime lane closures for about 10 nights following Wednesday’s westbound lane opening.
 
“It was only one year ago today,” Kimes said during the announcement. “We were just realizing what was causing the issues on the bridge.”
 
What was wrong with the bridge was aged stringers, or steel support beams under the driving deck where cars travel across the bridge. A contracted construction crew worked to replace the stringers on the eastbound lanes beginning Jan. 29 and began the westbound lane repairs on April 8. The construction work prompted lane closures that rerouted port and commuter traffic for the past several months.

The bridge was fully reopened for the Azalea Festival during the week of April 1.
 
The contractor is set to receive a $500,000 incentive from NCDOT for finishing the project ahead of schedule. The project was scheduled to be completed May 23.

“We deployed the largest incident management in the state's history down to southeast North Carolina for this bridge project, for this purpose," Kimes said. 

Kimes also thanked the N.C. State Ports Authority during his remarks.  
 
“If you think about it, we closed down their front door,” he said. “They had to reroute all their traffic to our state ports, and we appreciate those folks working with us as well.”
 
NCDOT did not receive complaints from the public, Kimes said. Many community members called with ideas for solutions to issues associated with the project like adjustments to traffic flow, he said, some of which his team implemented. He thanked the public for their cooperation in the traffic changes.
 
“There’s still work on the bridge to be done,” he said, referencing the platform under the bridge. “We also have a little bit of work with the counterweights, the counterweights are those top boxes you see up the towers there, there's still some adjustments on those counterweights as well, but those will be done at night.”
 
Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Chairman Hank Miller spoke during the announcement about the work the WMPO did to prepare both Brunswick and New Hanover County businesses for the bridge lane closures.  
 
They collaborated with area employers to encourage alternative commuting times and work-from-home strategies to decrease traffic flow between counties during peak traffic hours, Miller said.
 
Kimes said this is the first time in 53 years that the stringers had to be replaced. The road deck must be replaced every 10 years, he added, so the bridge has about 10 years of use before any major routine maintenance is necessary. There were no updates on funding options for an eventual Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement.

"We'll leave that for another time," Kimes said regarding replacement funding updates Tuesday.
 
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Natalie English said during a transportation conference in March that she expects a plan to replace the bridge to be announced within a year.
 
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