Delays in bridge repairs at Elizabeth Street and U.S. 701 (Faircloth Freeway) may act to snarl traffic in the coming weeks, with a slew of buses and other vehicles set to join other motorists when school officially starts Monday.
The N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) currently maintains more than 12,000 bridges across the state and inspects each once every two years. Following that inspection, the bridge is graded and given a condition classification that puts it in line for one of three types of work — replacement, rehabilitation and preservation.
The last inspection on the bridge at Elizabeth Street and Faircloth Freeway, conducted last year, noted it was in fair condition — middle of the road between “good” and “poor” — and was in need of preservation work.
“The structure overall was in really good shape,” said Trevor Carroll, DOT bridge maintenance engineer for Division 3, “but the deck just needed to have some work done to it. You can call it resurfacing.”
Ralph Hodge Construction Co. out of Wilson was awarded the contract to do the work, but is behind schedule, DOT officials said. The work, originally expected to be finished by mid-August, now is set for a Sept. 15 finish.
There are currently no detour routes, but the temporary traffic lights and signage on opposite sides of the bridge, going toward the downtown and back toward Clinton High School and Sampson Middle School, were put up to accommodate the reduction to one-lane traffic.
“We’ve started using those and we like them,” said Carroll. “We feel that the traveling public responds to that better.”
He said no alternate routes are being explored “at this time,” but the project was not expected to be going on once school started.
“It was not in the plan for the folks to be doing the work on the bridges at the school right now, but the contractor failed to move along as planned,” said Carroll. “It was a combination of a bunch of different things — weather was a factor. I know Ralph Hodge started late on this project. They were planning on being finished by (Aug. 14), but that didn’t work out, as you see. They got a late start and it’s taken them longer than it should’ve taken, as far as the project duration.”
Every bridge in North Carolina is inspected at least every two years in accordance with the National Federal Standard for Bridge Inspection. Structural problems identified during those inspections are addressed by DOT bridge maintenance crews or through contract repairs, such as the Elizabeth Street bridge work.
Approximately $12 million is allocated annually for bridge inspections and another $65 million a year for bridge maintenance.
“Our inspectors inspect every bridge every other year all across the state,” Carroll remarked. “A bridge will be looked at once every other year regardless of age, that’s just one of the requirements. An older bridge does not necessarily mean that it is going to be rehabbed. A lot of time we just replace them. It’s really all about the score that a bridge has.”
Replacement means exactly that, while rehabilitation can include replacing decks, spans and girders; jacking bridges; and major system preservation. Preservation can encompass hydro-demolition, resurfacing decks, painting structural steel, cleaning and painting bearings, and repairing and replacing expansion joints.
The Elizabeth Street/U.S. 701 overpass falls into that latter category.
“With this type of preservation work, the bridge deck would be scored as a ‘poor,’ ‘fair’ or ‘good,’” Carroll said. “If it receives a ‘fair’ it requires something like an epoxy overlay; if it receives a ‘poor’ it would need a hydro-demolition overlay, or an LMC (Latex-Modified Concrete) overlay.”
The bridge is now in fair condition, but as with any of the DOT’s bridge improvement or replacement projects, the department and those it contracts see to it that a report of “good” is on the next inspection.
“The last inspection report, dated 2012, it was fair,” said Carroll of the Elizabeth Street bridge, located between Springvale Cemetery and Westover Road. “After the preservation activity, on the next inspection, it is going to be good.”
Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley stressed that motorists traveling to Clinton High and Sampson Middle for the opening of school next week might want to find an alternate route, like Indiantown Road.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.