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Feds, DOT move up new bridge for Oxford Heights

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By Jon Hawley
Special to The Daily Advance

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Elizabeth City is now looking to replace the worn-out Providence Road bridge into the Oxford Heights neighborhood in 2021. While still a ways off, it’s five years sooner than the state’s initial target for construction.

The Federal Highway Administration has approved money for preliminary engineering on a replacement bridge, putting the bridge on track for construction just over two years from now, according to City Manager Rich Olson. The city has a deal with the N.C. Department of Transportation to tap into up to $480,000 in federal funding for the estimated $1 million project.

The city worked with a local DOT engineer, Barry Hobbs, to accelerate the project from DOT’s initial, tentative construction date of 2026, Olson explained in an interview Tuesday. He also shared an email in which Hobbs explained DOT should soon be able to approve a “request for letters of interest” to go out for the project. He cites tightened spending at DOT — apparently due to the delay in approving a new state budget, Olson noted — as a reason to briefly delay advertising the project.

Regardless, the city’s advertisement notes the opening of construction bids is set for Sept. 29, 2021, setting up construction to start some weeks after.

Asked how the circa-1957 bridge would hold up until then, Olson conceded it has a high “deficiency rating,” but said the city has recently done some repairs and regularly inspects it. Asked if the city needs to perform any short-term, structural work to the bridge, Olson said no.

Replacing the Providence Road bridge is important for Oxford Heights because it’s the only normal access in and out of the neighborhood, and the bridge has been in bad shape for years. The city tried to negotiate a new route into Oxford Heights that would’ve crossed a railroad line to the north, allowing the city to simply demolish the bridge, but railroad operators nixed the idea this spring.

That’s forced city officials to start planning for a new bridge they’ll put right next to the old one. That’s not ideal because the current bridge easily washes out and enters the lower-lying, south side of the neighborhood. City officials have also reported federal regulators won’t allow them to build the new bridge any taller, based on concerns that will worsen flooding elsewhere. The bridge crosses a tributary of Knobbs Creek.

To complement funding through DOT, the city has also set aside $300,000 of the city’s Powell Bill funding and $200,000 of the city’s stormwater fund.

It also received $250,000 last year from Golden LEAF for the project. The Rocky Mount-based nonprofit acted as a pass-through for state dollars tied to Hurricane Matthew relief. The storm further damaged the bridge in 2016, making its replacement eligible for disaster recovery dollars.

If the project’s cost is held to $1 million, the city may not have to spend all $500,000 of the local dollars reserved for the project, Olson also noted Tuesday.

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