Replacing Oxford Heights bridge will be quicker
By Paul Nielsen
Friday, November 8, 2019
Oxford Heights residents could be driving across a new bridge into their neighborhood sometime in early 2021.
Elizabeth City officials have plans to begin construction of a replacement for the Providence Road bridge into Oxford Heights within a year, City Manager Rich Olson said this week.
Construction of the bridge should take 120 days or less, but exactly when the project will start is still unknown, he said.
“We are trying to get firm dates from NCDOT for when the bridge project could begin,” Olson said, referring to the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is funding a portion of the bridge project.
The circa-1957 Providence Road bridge, the only current entry and exit road for Oxford Heights, crosses a tributary of Knobbs Creek into the neighborhood which is located off South Hughes Boulevard. City officials have wanted to replace the bridge for some time, pointing to its “high deficiency” rating.
According to state law, the city must inspect the bridge every other year. Olson said the city has performed repair work on the bridge in the past.
“We did some work on the decking and some other stuff,” he said.
The timetable for the bridge’s replacement is much sooner than what city officials were reporting in June. At the time, they said DOT had agreed to help fund the project but had not committed to getting it done before 2026.
City officials said they hoped to speed up that timetable, particularly because of the bridge’s age and condition and because of Oxford Heights’ location in a very flood-prone area. The bridge was damaged during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and heavy vehicles have been restricted from crossing it for some time.
Olson said city officials were able to convince DOT officials that the bridge needed replacing before 2026.
The city received 14 letters of interest for providing engineering services for the project, and RK&K Engineers was selected to provide a cost estimate for the bridge replacement, Olson said. He hopes to put the firm under contract at the Nov. 25 City Council meeting. RK&K is based in Maryland but has offices throughout southeast, including two in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.
“We are working through paperwork associated with that (contract),” Olson said.
The city originally put the bridge replacement cost at around $1 million but that figure may come in lower because of proposed changes to the project. DOT is expected to tap into federal funding that will pay 75 percent of the project’s cost. The city’s 25-percent share will come from the city’s stormwater utility fund and the city’s share of state Powell Bill funding.
When the project does begin, Oxford Heights residents should expect multiple bridge closures, including one that could last up to 10 days.
The city has received permission from DOT to open a now-closed emergency back entrance to the neighborhood to allow Oxford Heights residents to access Halstead Boulevard Extended from Lexington Drive when the bridge is closed. Olson said residents will be kept well informed on the timing of the road closures.
“It does cause some inconvenience to the people who live out in Oxford Heights, but they are accustomed to us opening up the back gate when we have had extreme flooding,” Olson said. “They are familiar with the protocols that we have in place.”
Preliminary talks between the engineering firm, DOT and city staff have the bridge staying on its existing alignment, which will result in the road closures. But using the existing alignment will also save “a lot” of time and money, Olson said.
“At one time we were discussing an offset, doing a one-lane closure,” Olson said. “But we decided after we met with NCDOT and the engineering company that we could do it on the existing alignment if we were allowed to close the bridge for a period of time.”
Once RK&K, which has proposed an expedited schedule, provides a cost estimate for the project, it will have to be approved by DOT. After the state agency signs off on the estimate the project will go before City Council for its approval.