Residents along John Brewer Road in northwestern Person County are growing increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of repairs to two bridges that have forced motorists and residents to find new ways out of the neighborhood.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation began work last summer to replace a small bridge over Richland Creek and a much larger span across a portion of Hyco Lake.
Residents learned of the construction plans in accounts published in The Courier-Times. They say no one from DOT gave them notice about plans for the work, but within three weeks, workers had blocked off John Brewer Road at both bridges.
Residents who called DOT said the bridge work was scheduled to be complete by the end of May. But that date has come and gone and there’s still work to be done on both bridges.
DOT officials say the project has run into a couple of snags, including some incorrectly built bridge components that had to be redesigned and approved by engineers before they could be installed. Once that was done, officials say weather has delayed work and a shortage of manpower on the part of the company that is contracted to build the bridge has also led to delays.
Project manager James Nordan said Monday that construction is now expected to last until late August or early September.
At that point, residents will have been taking a six-mile detour for well over a year.
Bob Schroeder, who lives on Latoma Drive, just off John Brewer Road, the lack of progress on the project has been disappointing. “They will come out and work for a day or two, then no one will be there for two weeks or more,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder says he has called DOT and emailed project officials a number of times, but it hasn’t seemed to have helped move the work along.
Nordan, the DOT project manager, said the company working on the bridge, National Bridge Builders, is working on two Person County projects at the same time. A bridge over the Flat River has also been under repair and work crews have spent time moving back and forth between the two projects. “It will probably impact that project too,” Norden said. “Normally you would have one crew working on one project, but they have one crew working on both projects.
Despite the errors and delays, Norden said the $2.71 million bridge replacements along John Brewer Road are still within budget. The contractor has not been penalized for the delays. The state granted several bridge contractors a six-month extension, in part because storms like Hurricane Florence and snowstorms caused some of the delays.
But residents feel like they are being penalized.
“Right now, it’s just a frustration,” said Don Rudd, who also lives on Latoma Road, which backs up to Hyco Lake. “It’s been closed since we moved here in the latter part of the year. It just got to the point where the inconvience was a little too much to ask for.”
The detours around the construction area take people about six miles out of the way. “However you cut it, it’s about 12 to 15 minutes of extra driving to get whereever you’re going,” said Dennis Mangum who has lived in his Latoma Drive home for 35 years. “I don’t understand how the state puts up with it. They don’t seem to be alarmed and they don’t seen to care. It’s been an absolute nightmare for us.” Mangum said this is the second time since he has lived in his home that the state has closed the road to work on one or both of the bridges. “I don’t recall the first time that it was much of an inconvenience that time,” Mangum said.
Schroeder, who lives on the lake part time during the year said he worries about the impact of the bridge closures on emergency traffic. “The added 15 to 20 minutes it takes to get here could be a problem if someone really needed help,” Schroeder said.
Rudd said emergency workers have already faced the challenges posed by the bridge closure when a worker on the site was injured. They came in from the Long Store (Road) side but they needed to come around on 158 to get to the man. They ended up having to send two ambulances out here to get to him,” Rudd said.
Residents have also had to endure other inconveniences. Clayton & Hurdle, which provides garbage and recycling services to the affected areas, told residents they would not be able to collect recycling while the bridges were out of commission. The company is still able to provide garbage service, but Rudd, who moved into his home in November 2018, said he has just been forced to throw his recycling out with the regular garbage.
Schroeder and Mangum say they’ve seen workers on the site fishing and taking a pontoon boat out onto the lake. When construction first began, part of the structure hung low enough that boat owners like Schroeder and Mangum could no longer get their boats out of the cove on which they live. When they alerted DOT to that problem, changes were made to allow the boats access to other parts of the lake, but both men say that, while construction has been underway, no one has managed the vegetative overgrowth from the shore. The two men say they went out and cut low-hanging limbs away themselves so they could get their boats out onto the lake.
DOT’s Nordan said he realizes the bridge closures have caused challenges for residents living in the area. “We’re pushing the contractor to finish as soon as possible,” Nordan said. “Once we get those long beams put in, then it will be traversible. Hopefully, by then, we start to see more progress.”