SYLVA – It’s a legitimate question in the Pigeon River Gorge: How do the bear, the deer and the elk get to the other side of the interstate?
The answer will soon be, by walking underneath it.
A contractor for the N.C. Department of Transportation is preparing for significant construction on a project to replace the bridge on Interstate 40 over Harmon Den Road at Exit 7 in Haywood County.
The plans include two paths — one on each side of Cold Springs Creek — to help wildlife migrate from one side of the interstate to the other without encountering vehicles. A 9-foot tall fence will guide animals to the trails away from traffic and under the bridge.
In addition, NCDOT is evaluating the use of wildlife guards — similar to slotted cattle guards — to prevent deer and elk from walking up the ramps. These measures will hopefully encourage wildlife to cross under the bridge and reduce the possibility of animal accidents.
“We are excited to be adding protections for wildlife in this and other upcoming NCDOT projects,” Division 14 Engineer Wanda Austin said. “We have worked with a wide variety of interest groups, transportation, and wildlife experts to incorporate these unique features to benefit the people who drive the gorge, and the animals that live in the gorge.”
The traffic management plan for this project includes a six-month detour with drivers utilizing the exit and onramps.
In recent weeks, construction crews from contractor Kiewit Infrastructure South have been mobilizing equipment and preparing to begin significant construction activities. This week, crews are upgrading the exit and entrance ramps.
Starting as soon as Nov. 9, all traffic will be funneled into a one-lane pattern prior to the bridge and use the ramps as a detour around the bridge. Traffic will remain in this pattern into May while crews remove and replace the deteriorating structure.
In addition to the unique wildlife features, this five-bridge project is also the first of its kind in the state to be administered in a new method with the intent of forming a partnership between the NCDOT, the contractor and the design team. Kiewit Infrastructure earned the $19 million contract for the first of the five, which has a final completion date set in May 2024.
The result of the new Construction Manager/General Contractor method is lower costs and expedited delivery from the first step in the design phase to the last inspection of the new bridge, and new safe passage underneath.
Drivers desiring to go from Asheville to Dandridge, Tenn., may choose to take I-26 West to Kingsport and then I-81 South to Dandridge. This route adds about 45 minutes to driving time compared to a typical trip through the gorge.