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DOT offers $480K for new Oxford Heights bridge

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The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to add the Oxford Heights bridge project to the state's Transportation Improvement Program, a move that will make available $480,000 toward the cost of the $1 million project.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The N.C. Department of Transportation will help Elizabeth City with funding to replace the aging bridge into the Oxford Heights neighborhood — but it hasn't committed to get it done before 2026, according to city officials.

City officials hope to speed up that timetable.

City Manager Rich Olson and Public Utilities Director Amanda Boone reported progress on replacing the Oxford Heights bridge during a finance committee meeting last week. The city's been trying to replace the bridge for more than a year. The span is more than 60 years old, took a beating during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and heavy vehicles have long been restricted from crossing it, city officials have reported.

Complicating matters, the bridge is the only route in and out of the Oxford Heights neighborhood, save for an emergency gate not meant for regular traffic, and is in a very flood-prone area.

The bridge is in such a bad spot that city officials tried, but failed, to create a new access route for the neighborhood. That would have required crossing the railroad just north of Oxford Heights, which is northwest of the Halstead-Hughes boulevard intersection, and the railroad operator refused to allow that, Olson and Boone reported in March.

The city is moving forward with replacing the bridge, but only has $750,000 available for a project estimated to cost $1 million.

Fortunately for the city, DOT has agreed to add the bridge to the State Transportation Improvement Program, a step that will open up $480,000 in federal highway dollars for the project, Olson and Boone reported last week.

DOT’s funding requires the city to oversee the project. City council voted 7-0 Monday to approve an agreement to have the city take on that responsibility.

The other issue, Olson and Boone reported, is that DOT's official project schedule calls for construction of the bridge to start in 2026.

While they stopped short of saying the Oxford Heights bridge wouldn't last that long, they also said they're working to expedite the project.

Boone said DOT's initial schedule may not be a problem. DOT just added the bridge to the state TIP, and has to be cautious about new projects' start dates, she explained. DOT can accelerate projects more easily than it can delay them, she noted.

Olson and Boone also said they've spoken with DOT officials often about the bridge, and they understand the urgency of replacing it.

Olson also said DOT has worked with the city before to speed up projects. For example, the city could start the work and DOT could agree to reimburse it when funds become available, he said.

During Thursday's meeting, Boone also addressed access to the Oxford Heights neighborhood during construction. Boone said there will always be at least one lane in and out of the neighborhood, and that the lane will be kept wide enough for fire trucks.

A new bridge should provide a sturdier route into the neighborhood, but city officials have long acknowledged the bridge, and the road leading up to it, will remain vulnerable to flooding.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not allow the city to build a new bridge taller than the old one, city officials have explained. To do so could increase other areas' risk of flooding, Boone said in March.

The bridge runs along Providence Road and over a tributary of Knobbs Creek.

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