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Hwy 55 Bridge Replacement Plans Raise Safety & Economic Concerns
Town, County officials meet with NCDOT
March 15, 2019

orth Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) proposes to replace two bridges along Highway 55, between Bayboro and Oriental. The first is on 55 at Stonewall, the second is over Alligator Creek.

Highway 55 is the direct route year-round and seasonal residents, tourists, farmers and emergency services use to travel between New Bern and Oriental.

An NCDOT press release about the replacement says the bridges are safe for travel, but “are considered structurally deficient and need more constant maintenance. The proposal to replace both at the same time is due to both being along the same route.”

Proposed designs show a temporary bridge, but only at one location: Alligator Creek. That temporary bridge is proposed to be 13 ft wide, 1 foot wider than the standard for one-lane on a US Highway. NCDOT did not say if the traffic at the second bridge would be rerouted or if traffic would be flagged through at intervals.

Bridges to be replaced, and a proposed alternate route for oversize vehicles. Click image to make the map bigger

Pamlico County and Town of Oriental officials met with representatives from NCDOT on Thursday. They included County Manager Tim Buck, Sheriff Chris Davis, County Commissioners Candy Bohmert and Paul Delamar, Oriental Town Manager Diane Miller and Deputy Finance Officer Tammy Cox, and Emergency Services Director Chris Murray.

Oriental Town Manager Miller stated she and county officials have many concerns about the construction. Chief among them for Miller was access to emergency services. She has a particular scenario in mind: “What if I’m at the bridge where there is no temporary bridge, and they have a big piece of equipment across it working, and I’m in the back of an ambulance with a cardiac event? I’m done.”

Miller asked an NCDOT engineer at the meeting if he’d spoken with the Emergency Services Director and asked him “can you get to us [in Oriental]? are we in danger, is there a problem? Our survivability is already a 30 minute drive, is that gonna make it worse?”

Miller said, “he [the engineer] says, ‘Oh yeah, we talked to him, he’s good.’” Miller then walked over to Chris Murray, Emergency Services Director, and asked him if he was good with the plan.

“[Chris] said ‘Oh, hell no.’ And then I started listening to the conversations around me.” Miller says none of the officials were ‘good with the plan.’

County Commissioner Candy Bohmert was concerned about farmers and their equipment, normally 18 ft across. The one temporary bridge currently proposed will only be 13 ft, causing farmers to take their equipment the long way around – down Highway 304 and back up Highway 55.

Town Manager Miller was also concerned about the economic impacts. “When they did work up on 306, they closed [the bridges] to put in new bridges, and businesses went out of business.”

Citing Paul’s Produce, a road-side fresh food market on Highway 55, Miller said detours would divert customers away from the area. “You’re gonna come from Kershaw Rd to get there, or you’re not gonna get there. You’re not gonna go past it in any way, shape or form.” Paul’s Produce is a seasonal business that will be open during construction.

Oriental has a thriving summer tourist season drawing in visitors from all over the state. Miller fears the delays would keep them away. “If you come from New Bern and get to the point that you’re sitting still for half an hour, you’re going to turn around and go back to New Bern and do something else.”

County and Oriental officials asked the NCDOT representatives to consider other options: creating two temporary bridges instead of one, widening the temporary bridges for farmers, working only at night.

“I have serious safety concerns. I have economic concerns,” said Miller. “I think there are other solutions that have not been considered – probably for cost effectiveness – that need to be reconsidered.”

NCDOT is still taking comments from residents until March 28, via phone, mail, or email. Town Manager Miller said comments should also be sent to State Representatives, as well as NCDOT.

The NCDOT contact is:
David Stutts
Project Engineer
1581 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

Related Information

Posted Friday March 15, 2019 by Allison DeWeese

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