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Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to open Wednesday night, 2 weeks ahead of schedule



Chad Kimes, NCDOT division 3 engineer, announced the early opening of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge on Tuesday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge will open earlier than anticipated, as announced at a press conference held by the North Carolina Department of Transportation on Tuesday.

Contractor Southern Road and Bridge will receive a $500,000 bonus from the NCDOT for completing the job early. The original deadline to for completion was May 23, ahead of Memorial Day. Though, technically, the crews had until June to wrap the project before facing penalties of $6,000 a day.

“Listen,” Chad Kimes, NCDOT division 3 engineer, said to a group of local politicians, peers and media at Dram Tree Park, at the base of the bridge. “No clinking.”

The preservation work has led to a smoother and safer ride.

It was a year ago almost to the day, Kimes added, that his team realized what would need to take place to correct steel support beams and old stringers on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Southern Road and Bridge installed new riding decks that will last another 50 years, and old stringers to be another 10.

This will buy time as NCDOT continues to look for funding to procure a bridge replacement, which federal grants have been applied for recently to help buffer the more than $400-million price tag.

CATCH UP: USDOT grant to cover 50% of CFMB replacement gets boost from senators, other leaders

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Kimes didn’t answer questions regarding the replacement or grant funding, but instead focused on celebrating what he called the single largest project of his career.

“I’ve overseen Highway 211, Wilmington Bypass, Hampstead Bypass, Military Cutoff changes, but this is at the top,” he said.

Retiring after a 30-year career in two months, Kimes thanked his team, the contractors and local officials for top-notch communication. This helped with adjusting traffic signals and making changes at intersections as needed during the project, as well as updating message boards across the city to inform drivers what to expect.

On Wednesday evening, all traffic pattern changes will revert back to what was in place pre-preservation work. This includes taking down the barricades on Third Street and restoring a normal pattern at U.S. 421 onto U.S. 74. 

NCDOT staff will restripe Third Street at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 9.

As well, traffic patterns at U.S. 117 North (North College Road) onto U.S. 74 (Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway) will return to original patterns during the nights of May 15 and 16, the NCDOT indicated, as long as weather permits.

Kimes especially thanked the public for its patience — and suggestions, some of which were put into place.

“Never did I have one complaint,” he commended, “only solutions.”

For instance, Kimes pointed to the lane changes at the foot of the Isabel Holmes Bridge on Highway 421 as one sent in from residents. They also suggested intersections in Wilmington and Leland that needed extra attention, he said.

City councilman Luke Waddell praised the community’s resilience for dealing with the congested traffic, particularly downtown. Third Street was a hotbed of miles of backed-up vehicles, which had to be rerouted to Isabel Holmes during Cape Fear Memorial’s eastbound and westbound lane closures.

As well, 18-wheeler trucks were not allowed to pass through downtown to reach the ports — a major economic hub of Wilmington.

“We closed down their front door,” Kimes said.

Trucks were rerouted across town, down South College and Shipyard instead. Kimes assured the heavy congestion on the Isabel Holmes, which has upward of 40,000 vehicles cross daily, has not degraded the structure. The bridge was inspected ahead of the project, with an anticipated 15,000 more cars crossing during Cape Fear Memorial Bridge’s repair work, which lasted from January to May, sans two weeks it was closed for Azalea Festival. 

Waddell thanked local law enforcement for helping mitigate traffic issues as well. Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization chair Hank Miller also showed gratitude toward NCDOT for its $500,000 contribution to help Wave Transit fund additional public transit routes to northern Brunswick County.

Area commissioners, including Frank Williams from Brunswick County and Jonathan Barfield from New Hanover County, were impressed with the crew and NCDOT’s tenacity to move the work along efficiently.

“This affects all of our communities — linking us,” Williams said.

“It just shows you the important role infrastructure plays on our area,” Barfield added. “This was what I like to call a bit of short-term pain for long-term gain.”

Kimes recognized a dozen of his team members, stating it “wouldn’t be possible without you.”

Though the bridge will open during daytime hours, for the first 10 days, outside lanes in each direction will close overnight in order to deconstruct the platform Southern Road built below the bridge to conduct the work. This will take place between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Afterward, the bridge will be lifted and released in 10-minute intervals to ensure working order. This will affect lane closures to be announced at another date.

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