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Wednesday, 22 August 2007 00:00

Canton bridge project to cause delays

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By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Construction is slated to begin immediately on a structurally deficient bridge in downtown Canton, a project the Department of Transportation says will take months and force them to re-route a major thoroughfare.

The bridge is on Bridge Street toward the outskirts of the downtown area. It extends approximately 155 feet from the Old Lamp Factory warehouse to the north entrance of Blue Ridge Paper Products and is used frequently by mill workers and residents.

Construction will begin any day now and will run until May 2008 — making for a year and a half that the bridge will not be usable.

According to 2005 DOT numbers, 7,000 vehicles use the bridge each day. Traffic will be re-routed one block behind the bridge’s current location to N.C. 215 behind the paper mill. Division Construction Engineer Jamie Wilson said off-duty police and deputies will be on duty during the busy morning hours to deter people from cutting across railroad tracks in front of the mill.

Wilson estimates the detour will be between 2.5 and 3 miles, resulting in no more than 3 to 4 minutes in increased travel times.

The recent bridge collapse tragedy in Minneapolis has caused transportation departments around the country to re-evaluate the need to replace bridges deemed structurally deficient. Though the Canton bridge was found to be structurally deficient — with a rating of 36.3 out of 100 — talks have been in the works for years to replace the structure.

The bridge, constructed in 1931, is among the oldest in the state still in use, according to Wilson. It was built using parts and pieces of various bridges. A large section of it was originally a demo bridge. The haphazard, hodgepodge nature of the structure and its age make it a good candidate for reconstruction.

A major obstacle to the construction is that the area is considered a historical district. In this case, a historic building is actually a part of the bridge structure — something Wilson says he has only seen in one other instance.

“We can’t say for certain that we could separate the two and not effect the integrity of the historic building,” said Wilson.

The details of the historical building are sketchy. According to Canton Area Historical Museum Director Patrick Willis, the original structure was built around 1910 as Haywood Grocery. In 1914, J.O. Plott bought the building and turned it into Plott Wholesale Grocery. Plott built a two-story addition onto the building in 1920. Since then, the buildings have served in various capacities, and at one time housed the Canton Public Library.

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