The bidding process to place a new high rise bridge linking Beaufort to Morehead City is underway. Construction begins this Spring to replace the current Gallants Channel drawbridge. We’ll talk about the project with the DOT and Beaufort Mayor Richard Stanley.
Communing between the coastal communities of Beaufort and Morehead City will be a lot less stressful once a new high rise bridge is operational over Gallants Channel. The project, which has been in the works for 20 years, is currently in the bidding process with construction slated to start this spring. Chairman of the Carteret County Transportation Committee Richard Stanley says the new bridge will mitigate traffic congestion, especially when the drawbridge opens.
“Traffic backs up for a mile or a half a mile and that happens daily, especially in the months of April, May, June, through September and October. Highway 70 or Cedar Street is heavily traveled and the bridge backs up, I’ve seen it back up to downtown Morehead City, so it’s a bottle neck.”
During the summer, the Graydon Paul drawbridge opens nearly every 30 minutes to allow boat traffic to pass through Gallants Channel. Built in 1957, the bridge is considered so functionally obsolete that parts to repair the bascule drawbridge are no longer available. Richard Stanley, who also serves as the Mayor of Beaufort, says the new high rise will be better for the town in the long run.
“Gallants Channel bridge will leave the causeway between Beaufort and Morehead City in an area we refer to as Radio Island and it will cross to the north east crossing the North Carolina Maritime Museum property, crossing Gallants Channel, going right by the Morehead Beaufort airport property across Highway 101 and Highway 70 and come out near a subdivision and Olga Drive. So it’s basically going to be a bridge and a bypass.”
The idea of a new bridge to replace the existing Graydon Paul span was first proposed in the 1990’s and the DOT started working on the project in 1994. Public hearings were held on six to eight possible routes through and around the town of Beaufort. In July of 2008, the NCDOT proceeded with the roadway and bridge design and entered into the right of way acquisition phase. Division 2 Engineer John Rouse says comments from residents helped them draft the final Environmental Impact statement.
“We take in all public comments we get from all sides and we incorporate that into the environmental impact statement as well as into our plans for replacement of the project and what we were looking to gain by trying to construct this project, trying to address as many of the local concerns as we could.”
While everyone isn’t happy with the plan, Rouse believes the selected alternative meets the DOT's goals of improving the safety and mobility along US 70 as well as eliminating delays caused by the bridge opening at Gallants Channel. He says they also had to consider a highway plan that would also accommodate boat traffic.
“We decided to go with a fixed span high rise bridge. And the fixed span bridge has a 65 foot vertical clearance, which is the same vertical clearance that you have on bridges on the intercoastal waterway. The bridge at the port is a good example. That’s a 65 foot vertical clearance structure.”
Whether by land or sea, Mayor Stanley believes the new high rise bridge will make it easier to access Beaufort, which was voted the “coolest small town in America in 2012” by Budget Travel Magazine. He’s also pleased by the economic impact the bridge is expected to generate.
“We have already done studies on beautifying and making the entrances into Beaufort more viable and prettier and we are prepared to do that. We are looking at possible traffic circles. There’s going to be a Turner Street entrance from the new bridge into Beaufort and it’s going to be a highway 70 and a highway 101 so there’s basically going to be three entrances into Beaufort. We’ve hired consultants to help us design those with signage and beautification and so forth to enhance the visit into Beaufort. So we think this is a positive thing.”
Stanley is in the process of working with DOT to salvage the bridge from being completely torn down after the high rise is built. He’d like to see the site used as a boat access and park for the town’s residents.
Bids for the contract to build the new span opened Tuesday. A total of eight bids were submitted and Conti Enterprises of Edison, New Jersey was the low bidder of $66.4 million dollars. According to Division 2 Engineer John Rouse, the selection process takes three to four weeks.
“We anticipate awarding the project sometime in early February this year. Assuming everything goes okay with the bid awards, we will be looking for construction to start this Spring.”
Rouse says the current traffic pattern using the drawbridge will continue during the construction phase of the project. Once the new span is complete, the DOT will shift the traffic on to the new bridge and start the task of removing the old bridge. The entire project is expected to be complete in late 2017. I’m Jared Brumbaugh.