If you’re planning a drive to the Outer Banks, you might want to get going soon – before they close the drawbridge into Dare County.
The U.S. 64 bridge across the Alligator River will be shut down for 12 days, starting Tuesday, for repairs to a cranky old drawbridge that pivots open for tugboats, fishing vessels and yachts traveling down the Intracoastal Waterway.
There are no quick alternate routes. Beachgoers should prepare for a longer slog that will add at least 30 miles to the journey.
The state Department of Transportation plans in a few years to rebuild the entire 2.8-mile bridge across the Alligator River as part of a $277 million project to widen 16 miles of U.S. 64. But engineers say they dare not wait that long to replace worn-out components that frequently cause trouble for the drawbridge section.
It’s a 260-foot-long span that pivots open for river traffic about 500 times a month, like a compass needle swinging from east-west to north-south.
John S. Abel, who takes care of DOT bridges in 14 northeastern counties, speaks of the 53-year-old drawbridge with a concern that is almost affectionate.
“She’s always been temperamental,” Abel said. “In the last five years we began to see more problems – where the bridge is being stuck where she won’t open, or she’s stuck in the open position.
“We’ve done a lot of work on that bridge to keep it open. We painted the bridge about three years ago, because she looked so bad.”
The $489,500 bridge rehabilitation work will include the replacement of balance wheels, worn-out gears and shafts, and the pivot itself – a bronze disk 24 inches in diameter that bears the weight of the entire bridge as it opens and closes.
Traffic delays already have begun as DOT closes one lane of U.S. 64 at a time, to make room for preliminary work. The complete shutdown will begin just after midnight Tuesday morning, continuing through April 14.
DOT will mark a 90-mile detour that starts west of the bridge at Columbia in Tyrrell County. It turns south from U.S. 64 onto N.C. 94, crosses Lake Mattamuskeet and runs north on U.S. 264 to rejoin U.S. 64 in Dare County. It adds about 60 miles to the trip.
Drivers coming from the Triangle will see electronic message boards suggesting a less inconvenient option: Take U.S. 17 north from Williamston, then turn south on U.S. 158 to the Dare County Outer Banks. That’s about 30 miles longer than the usual drive on U.S. 64 to Nag’s Head.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/