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Oxford Heights residents consider new bridge

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A driver in a mini van crosses the bridge at the entrance to the Oxford Heights community in this photograph taken in May.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Elizabeth City is proposing to build a new road in and out of Oxford Heights, allowing it to abandon the neighborhood's old and deteriorated bridge rather than replace it.

Community members are giving that idea mixed reviews.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Kay Greico said Thursday of the proposed road's route, describing it as too long and winding.

Greico lives near the intersection of Bonner and Lexington Drives, which is near where city officials have proposed extending Bonner Drive north into City Center West. That would be in lieu of replacing the Providence Road bridge connecting the neighborhood to U.S. Highway 17 South near Halstead Boulevard.

The new road would provide an access route at a higher elevation, making it less vulnerable to flooding, and could be cheaper than a potentially $1 million bridge replacement, City Manager Rich Olson reported to the city council last month.

The council tentatively endorsed the idea, but also instructed city staff to meet with residents about it. They did so last week, Olson reported in his weekly FYI memo.

Greico said she attended that meeting, and still prefers the city replace the bridge. The new road would connect Bonner Drive to City Center Boulevard and force residents to take a longer, circuitous route to and from their homes, she said.

Greico also said she understood replacing the new bridge wouldn't help with flooding, but still preferred it. The city may need to address flooding by clearing out drainage ways, she suggested.

Another Bonner Drive resident, Pat McGee, was less opposed to the road – she said the prospects of a longer route, or more traffic going by her house, didn't bother her.

“I'm from New York,” she said, meaning she's used to traffic.

One way or another though, McGee is hoping for action soon. She can't help but worry as the Providence Road bridge continues deteriorating, she noted.

“Every time I go over it, I worry my car will be the one that breaks through,” she said.

Olson has said the bridge is still safe for vehicles to cross – subject to weight restrictions – but also needs to be replaced “as soon as possible.”

For other local residents, however, the debate over a new road or a new bridge is missing the point. The low-laying neighborhood needs better drainage so it floods less, they argue.

“You're not getting rid of the water,” said Andy Anderson, who was at his daughter's house in Oxford Heights Thursday to mow the lawn. Days after rainfall – and before a burst of rain later in the afternoon – he noted parts of the lawn were still too damp to mow.

Though his daughter's house didn't get flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, he noted her neighbor across the street was, and has had to replace flooring over the years.

As to whether the neighborhood needs a new bridge or a new access road, he argued the city should simply try to reinforce the existing bridge.

Ronnie and Frances Long are outspoken Oxford Heights residents who live near the bridge and have often faced flooding. They explained they're not so concerned about the bridge versus the road. Their concern remains getting the city and the N.C. Department of Transportation to maintain and improve the neighborhood's drainage.

“It's not going to help flooding. We all know that,” Frances Long said.

Ronnie Long reiterated his belief that DOT needs to clean out culverts and improve drainage along the branch of Knobbs Creek running under the Providence Road bridge. Years of property development around the neighborhood have also sent more water flowing by, he said, citing development on Halstead Extended and various subdivisions on U.S. 17 South.

In a phone call Thursday, Olson said city staff have met with railroad representatives about the new road, which would have to cross their tracks, but the new road is still early in development.

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