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Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:32

Traffic delays ahead: Canton bridge work could clog up downtown

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Anyone headed to Canton will need to book a little more drive time starting this fall, when a key downtown bridge is razed and replaced. A dog-legged detour around the construction is expected to seriously slow traffic on the town’s two busiest downtown streets, Park and Main.

The aging bridge was built in 1924. The total cost to replace it is about $3.5 million, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government and the remaining 20 percent from state funds. The bridge has been on the DOT’s to-do list since 2000, said Brian Burch, division construction engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

For businesses perched on the edges of the bridge, the 16-month project could be quite a change.

“Apparently, the whole front of our parking lot is going to be taken up,” said Jason Siske, general manager at Napa Auto Parts, which sits just past the bridge on Park Street in downtown. His store is looking for a new home anyway, so the lack of road leading to their current location might not affect them for long.

Next door, however, Tom Wilson at American Cleaners has no plans to move.

“When they close one artery, it’s going to affect everybody,” said Wilson, who owns the store. “We just have to bear through it though. We’ve known this has been coming for years.”

Traffic moves through downtown Canton on parallel, one-way streets — Main Street and Park Street. Both have bridges spanning the Pigeon River.

With the Park Street bridge out of commission, traffic will jog over to Main Street where the bridge there will be pressed into service to carry traffic in both directions.

“People can expect some delays,” said Burch. “I’m sure we’ll have some delays during our rush hours in the morning and also when schools are dismissing.”

At the other end of downtown, Charles Rathbone of Sign World WNC isn’t anticipating too much hassle.

“I might look at changing my signage if it [Main Street] does go to a two-way, but I don’t really see it affecting us at all,” said Rathbone. “We’re going to be here with or without the bridge.”

But when the hassle, such as it is, finally subsides, contractors Taylor and Murphy say that the town will be left with a better, wider bridge. The firm won a $2.9 million contract, beating out six other bidders.

The bridge is now two-lane, but when construction closes in December 2012, there will be three lanes and a turning lane as well as wider sidewalks on both sides.

As part of the deal, the town will also come away with a greenway running under the east side of the bridge, which will connect to the town’s current greenway and provide safe passage for pedestrians under the bridge and into what will be Sorrells Creek Park.

“The bridge itself is obsolete to the traffic flow and the plans are to bring it up to date,” said Chris Britton, vice president of Taylor and Murphy. “It’ll be a lot safer, it’ll allow traffic to flow a lot better.”

Taylor and Murphy isn’t new to bridge building in Canton. The firm was behind the revamp of Bridge Street’s namesake in downtown earlier this year, has just completed work on the structure passing over Interstate 40 on Newfound Road and has a bridge in Cruso underway.

For the most part, said Britton, this bridge will be demolished and replaced by local laborers. He expects to have around 30 workers on the project, and all but the most specialized will be from the region.

Around half of the rubble from the soon-to-be-destroyed bridge will be recycled or sold as scrap metal. The new version, said Project Manager John Herrin, will also hopefully prove healthier for the river running beneath it.

“We’ll be making the river wider and cleaner, because right now you have three piers in the river and when we’re finished you’ll only have two,” said Herrin.

Contractors will start pulling up utilities and getting the bridge ready to come down by the end of August. The transportation department has a traffic flow plan in place, but they’re unlikely to need it until November, when Britton expects the bridge to close.

The town expects some upheaval during the process, but like Wilson, has long been ready for the replacement.

“We’re excited,” said Town Manager Al Matthews. “It’s going to be an inconvenience, but it’ll be good when it’s completed.”

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