Dr. Traffic

Extended Eastway Bridge closing sparks complaints

Ten bridges are under construction for the Blue Line Extension project, and the bridge at Eastway Drive is being extended. East 36th Street, shown here, is also closed at the railroad tracks near North Davidson Street.
Ten bridges are under construction for the Blue Line Extension project, and the bridge at Eastway Drive is being extended. East 36th Street, shown here, is also closed at the railroad tracks near North Davidson Street. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Even on the best construction projects, roads can stay closed longer than expected.

But the closing of the bridge on Eastway Drive in east Charlotte has at least a few people stewing.

That’s the word I’ll use for a caller from Country Club Heights. She wanted to say that the bridge has been closed too long – now about 15 months.

“Eastway is a main artery going across east Charlotte, all the way from Independence to North Tryon,” she said. “It’s a great inconvenience and really hurting businesses along Eastway badly.”

Eastway Bridge sits between North Tryon Street and The Plaza. It carries traffic over the railroad tracks near Eastway Park. More than 20,000 cars a day use this part of the major thoroughfare, based on past counts by the city.

The bridge was closed in May 2014, according to a report in the Observer, and was scheduled to reopen in December 2014.

It’s still closed.

“Right now it’s a disaster here,” said Pete Koutsoupias, owner of Tryon House restaurant, at 130 Eastway Drive.

Since the bridge was closed, business has dropped by 25 to 30 percent at the 275-seat restaurant, where Koutsoupias has been serving customers for 27 years.

The bridge was closed for construction that will extend its length as a part of the massive, $1.16 billion Blue Line extension light rail project. The bridge will need to be longer once Blue Line extension tracks are added parallel to existing Norfolk Southern tracks.

But without the bridge, access to places along Eastway between North Tryon Street and The Plaza is limited for drivers, the caller said.

The good news is the bridge is now scheduled to reopen in early September, according to Hillary Ryan, a spokesperson for Charlotte Area Transit System.

It might not help to know the reasons the bridge has been closed so long, but it probably won’t make the situation worse. Here’s how Ryan explained it:

▪ Utilities had to be relocated, and it was a slow process working with outside parties to get that done. Ultimately, the city stepped in and helped those parties come to an agreement so work could continue on the bridge, Ryan said.

▪ The city has to follow strict rules for working in a “live” rail corridor, Ryan said. In some cases, that can limit hours spent on the job. “Due to this restriction, we were not able to make up time lost at the pace we desired,” Ryan said.

▪ Some of the girders, the large beams that support the bridge, were ordered incorrectly, Ryan said. They had to be sent back and modified to properly fit the bridge.

If all goes according to schedule, the bridge will reopen in September. And maybe that will bring more customers back to Tryon House, where weekends are the favorite time for customers to visit for homestyle food with a Greek flair.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

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