It was a little past 6 a.m. when we drove across the old bridge for the last time.
Down below, the South Fork River flowed dark and silent. To our left, the Norfolk Southern trestle loomed – an aging hulk waiting for the next freight or Amtrak to roll by.
My wife and I were coming home from the Stowe Family YMCA in Mount Holly. Three or four mornings a week we cross the C.C. Dawson Bridge over the South Fork River in Cramerton. Along with lots of other folks, we also take this same route when we head to Belmont, Charlotte and other points east. For us, it’s been the easiest and quickest.
As most people in the Cramerton area know, the 60-year-old C.C. Dawson Bridge that connects Lakewood Road with North Main Street has been closed to traffic. Barricades went up shortly after 7 a.m. on Oct. 4 – the morning we drove by.
Crews are demolishing the bridge in preparation for a new structure.
The old one always looked pretty solid to me. But the state said it had to go. According to a N.C. Department of Transportation release, the bridge is “both functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.”
While this doesn’t mean the structure is unsafe, “…there are elements of the bridge that need to be monitored to maintain its structural integrity, and its layout no longer meets current design standards for width, shoulders or rail.”
A $4 million contract has been awarded to Charlotte-based Lee Construction Co. of the Carolinas and the wrap-up date for construction is April 30, 2014, according to the release.
Why will the project take so long? What impact will it have on downtown Cramerton and neighborhoods already feeling the squeeze from construction of the new Stuart Cramer High School off Lakewood Road?
These are questions I put to Cramerton Mayor Ronnie Worley and Town Manager Michael Peoples.
Peoples told me there’s a possibility traffic will flow over the new bridge by November, 2013, instead of April, 2014. But whether that will happen is anybody’s guess.
First, the bridge – named after a legendary Cramerton Mill executive – must be dismantled, piece by piece. Then there’s the location – a confined space between wetlands and a railroad. The project will have to navigate a tangle of state and federal regulations, Peoples said.
He knows all about that. The town had to jump through the same hoops while developing the new public park on Goat Island in the South Fork River.
Meanwhile, People advises everybody traveling in and around Cramerton to be patient and flexible.
That’ll save wear and tear on their nerves.
The state’s designated detour around the bridge is Eighth Avenue to Market Street to Wilkinson Boulevard. North Main Street will be open only to people living on that street as well as Lakewood Road past Eagle Road.
The bottom line: Expect traffic bottlenecks.
“Market Street is going to be inundated at times,” Peoples said.
He suggested scheduling travel around the peak time of 7 to 8 a.m.; taking alternate routes; and allowing a little extra time.
The town is trying to lessen the impact of the bridge project on downtown.
Basically, it’ll be business as usual in the town center. This message has gone out on the town’s website, Facebook page and will be proclaimed on billboards along Wilkinson Boulevard.
Hopefully, people accustomed to driving into Cramerton on Lakewood Drive will keep coming by another route.
Mayor Worley reminded me “there’s more than one way in and out of Cramerton.
“We’re creatures of habit,” Worley said. “We get used to going one way.”
I’ll try to remember that in the months ahead.
What will things be like on Dec. 6 during the Cramerton Christmas parade? Traffic is usually a mess even when all roads are open.
And what about McAdenville? What happens when Christmastown USA lights up after Thanksgiving? How will that figure into the new traffic mix around Cramerton?
We’ll find out soon enough. While things could get hairy, I’m hoping they’ll be smoother than expected.
Shaking things up
Worley told me Cramerton officials have known about the bridge replacement for years, and tried to be prepared.
The new bridge will be 440 to 500 feet long and have two black tubular rails along each side; also, the structure will have a 5-foot sidewalk on one side and two decorative lights on each end and in the middle.
I tried to visualize the new bridge when my wife and I slowed down to take a final look at the old one that morning.
We wouldn’t be going that way again for a long while. But that was OK. We planned to roll with the flow. Shaking things up now and then is exciting.