It was supposed to take eight months. A South Carolina company hired by the N.C. Department of Transportation began dismantling the N.C. 42 bridge over the Deep River at Carbonton in March 2018 and was expected to have the new bridge open in November.
A year and a half later, the bridge is still out. This week, another contractor picked up where the first one left off, and NCDOT now says the new bridge should be open by the end of this year.
In the meantime, the thousands of people who used the N.C. 42 bridge between Sanford and southern Chatham County continue to follow detours over miles of country roads.
The drive is particularly frustrating for people who live closest to the bridge. James Hill lives near the river on the Lee County side and frequently crossed the bridge before it closed.
“If it weren’t for the trees, I could see the convenience store and the church I attend,” said Hill, who recently retired from the Moore County Sheriff’s Office. “But it’s 14 miles to get there.”
Construction work was interrupted twice in the fall of 2018, when first Hurricane Florence and then remnants of Hurricane Michael sent the Deep River over its banks. NCDOT set new deadlines, of May 2019 and then August.
By late May, the bridge was only about half done, and it became clear the original contractor, Extreme Concrete Cutting of Gaffney, wasn’t going to meet even the extended deadline, said NCDOT spokesman Aaron Moody. NCDOT declared the company in default of the contract, leaving the department’s insurance company to find another contractor to finish.
After another competitive bidding process, the insurance company chose Smith-Rowe of Mount Airy, which began working this week. Efforts to reach Extreme Concrete Cutting for comment were unsuccessful.
Hill said he’s “just tickled to death” to see work on the bridge resume. When the project got delayed, he wrote on behalf of the Carbonton community to the governor and their local representative and county commissioner and reached out to NCDOT. He said he blames the state as much as the contractor for the delays.
“The problem lies with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. They should have never, ever let it go this long,” he said. “They had inspectors there. Somebody should have went back and said, ‘Hey, this ain’t working.’”
Moody said NCDOT understands the importance of the bridge.
“It’s one of those bridges that goes through the middle of a community and has created heartache for people getting where they need to go,” he said. “We’re going to be just as happy as they are to get it back open again.”
The old N.C. 42 bridge was built in 1961 and had reached the end of its useful life. The new bridge will be slightly longer and higher and will have railings that are nearly a foot taller than the old ones. The bridge will also be eight feet wider, with room for two lanes of traffic and four-foot wide shoulders on either side.
Extreme Concrete Cutting had a $2 million contract to replace the bridge, and that’s how much the state will pay. Any extra cost that comes with hiring a new contractor will be covered by the insurance company, Moody said.