It's going to take a fifth year to get this bridge reopened

The Lake Dam Road bridge over Walnut Creek in West Raleigh has been closed since March 2014.
The Lake Dam Road bridge over Walnut Creek in West Raleigh has been closed since March 2014. rstradling@newsobserver.com

Early last fall, city officials thought the Lake Dam Road bridge in West Raleigh would finally reopen by this summer.

They were off by nearly a year.

The city recently approved a construction contract to replace the bridge over Walnut Creek and now estimates that it will be open to traffic sometime next spring.

That will be about five years after the 52-year-old bridge was closed when an engineering firm doing a routine inspection found that two support beams were showing signs of failure. Because the city expected to rebuild the bridge in a few years anyway, it decided against making repairs and pushed ahead with a full replacement.

That process has taken longer than expected, to the frustration of residents and others who used to take Lake Dam Road between Tryon and Avent Ferry roads.

The city took steps to try to speed up the process, including putting up the $285,000 needed for design work. But several factors made designing the bridge and obtaining permits more complicated than usual, said Veronica High, the stormwater administrator for the city.

For starters, three layers of government are involved in planning and financing the project. Eighty percent of the estimated $2 million construction costs will come from the federal government, through a program administered by the N.C. Department of Transportation; the city will pay the rest.

In addition, the bridge's location next to Lake Johnson Park made it more difficult to move utilities such as gas, electric and communication lines that are under the road or hanging from the bridge. And because the park was created with the help of a federal grant program, the city and NCDOT have had to consult the U.S. Department of the Interior and show that the project wouldn't harm the park.

“It added another layer of difficultly, because we weren’t able to work on both sides of the road," High said.

The federal grant has also added a layer of difficulty to the planned replacement of the Avent Ferry Road bridge over Lake Johnson. NCDOT plans to rebuild the causeway and bridge over the lake with one that's wider and includes a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists.

The wider bridge and the approaches on either side will require taking some land from the park. To make up for it, NCDOT has proposed acquiring 3.25 acres of land at the intersection of Avent Ferry Road and Trailwood Drive that could be used to connect two sections of the Walnut Creek Greenway.

NCDOT doesn't plan to begin construction on the Avent Ferry bridge until the summer of 2019, after the Lake Dam Road bridge has opened.

The Avent Ferry Road construction will take about a year, said NCDOT spokesman Sean Williams. The state wants that bridge reopened before contractors get deep into the planned widening of the Beltline nearby.

The Beltline project will involve remaking the Jones Franklin Road interchange and replacing the Athens Drive and Melbourne Road bridges across the highway. When those bridges are closed, the state will use Avent Ferry Road and the new bridge over Lake Johnson as a detour.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling