ELIZABETHTOWN – A significant milestone in the construction of the new U.S. 701 bridge in Bladen County will occur in May when 42 girders are set into place over the Cape Fear River.
The placement of the concrete-reinforced girders, which average 150 feet long, will require the existing two-lane bridge to close to traffic in both directions at scheduled times throughout much of May.
The N.C. Department of Transportation and the bridge contractor have been coordinating with local officials on the upcoming closures to minimize the inconvenience for travelers and to ensure emergency access is maintained. A tractor-trailer will offload the girders onto the bridge when it's closed to traffic.
The closure times, which will occur only on weekdays and tentatively begin May 2, are as follows:
During the closures, the contractor will allow ambulances and law enforcement vehicles to cross the bridge, even with the girders resting on the bridge. Because fire trucks are too large, Elizabethtown town officials will plan to park a fire truck on the northern end for mutual aid during the closures twice each weekday.
“We understand these closures will cause temporary inconveniences to the public, but they are necessary to safely and efficiently complete this phase of construction of the new bridge," said Ken Clark, the NCDOT district engineer for Bladen and Columbus counties. “We also have been diligently working with our local partners and emergency responders to minimize the disruptions."
In addition, commercial truck drivers will be encouraged to detour around the bridge or park outside of town during the one-hour closures to help avoid blocking intersections in town as vehicles wait for the bridge to reopen.
A crane soaring more than 400 feet into the air will be erected along the riverbank. The crane will hoist the girders, one at a time, onto the bents, or concrete piles that now poke into the air.
The closures will last until the girders can be set into place, which is estimated to be May 25. There will be no closures on Saturdays, Sundays, or Memorial Day or the Friday afternoon before the White Lake Water Festival on May 21.
Construction of the $23.3 million bridge project began in the summer of 2020 with the demolition of one bridge. The 1,218-foot bridge will have four lanes and is scheduled to be completed and fully opened to traffic by late spring 2024.