TOAST — For nearly a month, an unusual situation halted work to replace a bridge on Sparger Road just off N.C. 89, subjecting motorists to continued long detours in some cases.
But the good news is, crews are back on the job this week and N.C. Department of Transportation officials hope the entire project can be completed within six weeks and allow the two-lane Sparger Road (aka SR-1621) to be reopened to traffic.
In the meantime, problems have occurred due to some drivers crossing the bridge over Pauls Creek anyway — in defiance of detour and road-closed signs. That is deemed highly unsafe, because even though the traveling surface appears intact, there have been no side walls — or barriers — in place, thus creating the potential for a deadly plunge off the side.
“There have been issues,” DOT District Engineer Brandon Whitaker said of that situation, which the N.C. Highway Patrol has been monitoring and trying to abate. “There have been numerous tickets written in the last three weeks,” Whitaker said.
He explained that the nearly one-month interruption of construction was connected to the specialized work involved in building the concrete barrier walls on each side of the bridge.
“The problem is, there’s only two subcontractors in North Carolina that do that kind of work,” the local DOT spokesman said. Those two companies have been swamped. “And it’s a real nightmare to get them in here.”
“There’s actually specialized equipment that they do that with,” Whitaker added of constructing the concrete side walls.
Sparger Road has been closed to both lanes of traffic since March 24 to allow the old bridge over Pauls Creek to be replaced.
Smith-Rowe, LLC, a Mount Airy construction company, is the prime contractor for the $992,422 project. Work began on March 19, with all tasks except the establishment of permanent vegetation to be completed within 195 days from March 24.
“The bridge actually went up way quicker” than expected, Whitaker said. But the delay was created when the project reached that point and awaited the next phase of the job, which depended on the subcontractor for the side barriers — Boss Construction Co. of Mocksville — being freed up to get here.
“It’s something the prime contractor can’t do,” Whitaker said of erecting the barrier walls. “Otherwise it would have already been done.”
In the meantime, people affected by the road closures have been wondering about the suspension of work, while continuing to cope with the inconvenient detours. “It’s seven to eight miles out of the way for some people,” said Richard Ward, a resident of the area.
Depending on one’s location and destination, a motorist must either use Pipers Gap Road and North Franklin Road, or Maple Grove Church Road as access points between Sparger Road and N.C. 89.
But there is now light at the end of the bridge, so to speak.
The subcontractor, Boss Construction, arrived at the site Tuesday and was able to complete the barrier on one side of the bridge. Workers were focusing on the other side Wednesday, with the job involving the placement of framework to which concrete was then applied and shaped with the help of sophisticated machinery.
“We hope to be finished in the next four to six weeks,” Whitaker added of the entire project. “We have some grading and paving to be done. It will take about that long to perform.”
This would put the bridge replacement’s completion ahead of schedule, as the Department of Transportation originally anticipated an end date of Oct. 5.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.