PILOT MOUNTAIN — Contractors and state DOT officials pledged to business owners Thursday night that a bridge would be open to traffic by the end of the 2014 calendar year, after the N.C. 268 bridge over U.S. 52 was demolished a month ago to make way for a new bridge.
In a follow-up meeting to an initial gathering of business members and county and town officials last week, Mike Pettyjohn, division engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 11, which Surry is in; other DOT officials; David Rowe, owner of Smith-Rowe Construction of Mount Airy, which holds the contract for the project; and county Commissioner Paul Johnson answered questions and brought information to nearly 100 people in the basement of Mountain View Restaurant.
“We are going to get traffic on (the bridge) much quicker than we have planned,” said Pettyjohn as the meeting began. “We’ve worked with our contracts, we’ve put our heads together.
“We’ve got a goal and a plan. We think we can have traffic on it by the end of the calendar year. It won’t be completed, but that’s our goal we’re striving for.”
Pettyjohn said it was his office’s fault for not communicating better with those in the area, and he promised to do a better job of keeping the public informed about the progress of the bridge project and future projects that would affect the area. “I apologize for not communicating better with everyone.”
Rowe explained the delay in work since the bridge was torn down and why it was demolished in what residents and business owners feel was a premature time line.
“In any project, there are certain schedules you must keep,” Rowe said. “We have jobs from one side of the state to the other that all demand certain attention.”
He said the demolition crew scheduled for the 268 project has to be in the eastern part of the state throughout August for other projects, so they moved forward with the local demo before having to relocate east instead of waiting another month.Then late in the planning process an error on the blueprints were found that would have called for a steel piling, but the project needs to have a galvanized piling, which takes longer to arrive from suppliers.
“The first piling delivery is coming Monday,” Rowe said, “and that is as soon as we could get it.”
He told those attending that he would have two crews working nonstop on the project, with the exception of Sundays, as long as there is work to be done, with the explanation that concrete takes a few days to set before other work can occur.
“We are trying to make sure everything happens in a timely manner” going forward, Rowe said. “We should have waited until we got the galvanized pilings to do the demolition, but I never thought the bridge would come down in three days. I didn’t expect the deck to be in such bad shape that it would fall apart like it did.”
When state officials were questioned on why they didn’t install a temporary bridge and if they had ever split a town in half like this, Pettyjohn said a temporary bridge was considered, but would have made major impacts to either side of the construction area and led to closed ramps for periods of time.
Solution sought to drum up business
With the bridge already gone and no way to bring it back until the end of the year, businesses and citizens wanted to know what could be done to drive traffic into town, especially southbound traffic which is cut off to the majority of town at the 268 interchange and traffic from town to those businesses on the west side of 52 such as Wendy’s, the gas stations and Pilot Mountain Rapid Lube. They also questioned how they could recoup revenue lost by the missing bridge.
Also, a person questioned if the same thing would happen to businesses at the Cook School Road interchange, which is the bridge set to be replaced once the 268 project is completed.
“We can mitigate by completing this project quicker, and that is our plan,” Pettyjohn said. “What we learn from this we’ll apply to” Cook School Road.
The business owners asked if a state logo sign could be erected north of Cook School Road for southbound traffic to know to exit to the left to access area businesses. Another suggestion was some sort of billboard to direct travelers into town on Old 52.
“The detour signs are not done well and point people in the wrong direction,” said Donald Mueller, owner of Mountain View. “People need to stop and be suckered into town to give us business.”
D.C. Collins, owner of Pilot Mountain Rapid Lube, suggested rewording the signs to mirror signs he saw near Reidsville to say “new traffic pattern instead of closed.”
“I’m not a business owner here and I live in Mount Airy,” said one woman, “but I do business with businesses here. If I didn’t know how to get downtown or get to Key Street, there is nothing before Cook School Road to tell a traveler how to get to downtown Pilot Mountain.”
When a couple in the crowd asked about reimbursements or helping keep the businesses from going under, Commissioner Johnson said, “You need to talk to your elected officials on legal matters and if you feel a desire talk to an attorney, but these guys are engineers and they can’t answer that.”
Rep. Sarah Stevens and Sen. Shirley Randleman who represent Surry County on the state level both responded to requests to attend Thursday’s meeting, but were unable to due to ongoing budget negotiations in Raleigh, Johnson said.
Rowe said he would take out an ad in the newspaper to keep residents apprised of where the project is and what work is planned possibly as often as weekly.
Pettyjohn said he would be sure to keep the public informed with press releases about any ongoing projects as well. And he said if DOT can get the go-ahead to do some sort of promotional signs, he would move on that.
Mueller addressed those gathered as the hour-and-a-half meeting came to a close, “I think we got a lot accomplished. We got a promise to get the bridge up. I know some are looking for compensation for their business to make it, but we aren’t going to get that answer here.”
He suggested businesses work together with some sort of promotion such as a card to get some sort of discount at other Pilot Mountain businesses after spending money at one. “Let’s find creative ways to work together.”
Another woman pushed the influence of social media and promoting the area businesses often.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.