WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – It's been under construction for years, but the rehab of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is far from over. WECT has learned the bridge will be closed completely this fall, so crews can replace the cables.
The constant construction is enough to drive some commuters crazy. The delays have some Wilmington-area drivers wondering, if the little beach towns can get a fixed-span high rise bridge, why can't we?
If you're trying to cross the river into downtown Wilmington, the options are limited. Both of the bridges crossing the Cape Fear River are under construction, and may also be open for boat traffic without notice.
The Cape Fear Memorial's recent paint job was supposed to take seven months to finish when it started in the spring of 2010 - but ended up going a year and a half over schedule. Once it wrapped this spring, mechanical and electrical repairs the bridge needed began.
The recent painting and construction on the bridges came with a roughly $10 million price tag. If it's any consolidation for the drives who were delayed, the contractor for the painting project was dinged $1,000 a day for going 18 months over schedule.
"Both of these bridges were built in the late 60s to late 70s, and they're just due for some maintenance," explained Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Wayne Currie. "There's just a lot of little repairs that need to be done to both."
Local transportation officials say we were supposed to get a fixed-span bridge when the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge was built years ago, but the legislature wouldn't allocate enough funds, and the lift-span bridge was cheaper. Fast forward 40 years and money is still the biggest issue.
Laura Padgett, a Wilmington City Councilwoman and chair of the Transportation Advisory Committee says discussions for the proposed Cape Fear Skyway are basically in a vegetative state right now.
Disagreements over where to put the bridge are a problem, but mostly, it's the bridge's nearly billion dollar price tag. "It's my understanding that the DOT is trying to do some value engineering, looking at ways that might make it cheaper, and get the cost more manageable," Padgett said. "It will be a toll road - it will have to be a toll road, there's no where near enough money to pay for it otherwise."
The width of the Cape Fear River requires a bridge that's more than three times the length of the new bridges in Oak Island and Sunset Beach. Engineering a bridge that big, and condemning prime property along the Cape Fear River, is exponentially more expensive.
Until our elected leaders can come up with the cash, commuters can expect to wait. While the current construction is expected to be finished by the end of this year, crews will have to close the bridge to all vehicular and marine traffic for several days in late September and early October to replace cables on the lift span.
By modern standards, bridges like the Cape Fear Memorial are obsolete. Almost all newly constructed bridges are fixed span, high rise bridges. Without having moving parts, they are a lot cheaper to maintain and a lot less of a headache for commuters on the bridge and on the water.
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