Drivers may no longer need to whisper a prayer or grip the steering wheel tighter before going over the Yadkin River on Interstate 85 near Salisbury as work to replace the old, narrow bridge reaches a new milestone.
State crews planned to close the old bridge on I-85 late Wednesday. For now, drivers heading south toward Charlotte will be shifted to a portion of the new bridge thats been open to northbound traffic since spring.
The full, eight-lane bridge, along with a widened interstate, is expected to open along the Rowan and Davidson county border next spring.
Built in 1955, the Yadkin bridges daily traffic had reached more than 60,000 vehicles, including thousands of tractor-trailer rigs.
The bridge has long been a worry spot for drivers and regulators. The federal government has called the bridge structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.
The old bridge is narrow, and doesnt have a shoulder. Drivers also had to navigate a steep curve before entering it.
The new bridge, and other alignment work on I-85, gets rid of those problems, says Pat Ivey, a division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation. The curves are gone, and the bridge was built to match current federal and engineering standards. Crews are building a 10-foot shoulder that will run the length of the bridge in both directions.
Ivey said the new bridge, particularly the shoulders, will remove concerns that drivers wont have a place to pull over if they run into problems.
This is really great news. Its about time that they finally replaced it, said Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA of the Carolinas. It just shows you that with a little bit of wherewithal, we can get some of these bridges repaired.
In all, it is costing $201.5 million to replace the bridge and widen the nearby interstate. The project is being paid for through a mix of federal and state money, including from Gov. Bev Perdues Mobility Fund for large infrastructure projects.
When I came into office, I made a promise to North Carolina that I would find a way to replace the Yadkin River Bridge, Perdue said Wednesday in a news release. Today marks an important milestone in delivering that promise and providing a safer, more efficient way to move goods and help people access jobs, health care and education.
Still, Crosby and others say the Yadkin River project is just one of the states many bridge needs.
AAA releases a ranking each year of substandard bridges. The 2012 study found 5,866 across North Carolina that the federal government says are in relatively poor physical condition, are inadequate to handle truck weight or arent designed to handle current traffic volume.
The state is responsible for 13,531 bridges, and federal reports show North Carolina has a larger percentage of substandard structures than some other areas, according to AAA. Crosby said the state estimates itll cost $5 billion to replace the bridges double the figure cited about five years ago with no clear way to pay for it all.
For now, though, many are pleased to see the progress with the Yadkin River bridge.
Gene Stegall, a co-owner of a Charlotte trucking company, says the old bridge had long been the most treacherous part of the drive between Charlotte and Greensboro. He said the curves forced drivers to slow down and be aware of their surroundings
I welcome the new bridge, said Stegall of TG Stegall Trucking Co. Its going to be really nice.