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Business owners on Midway Road fear a North Carolina Department of Transportation bridge replacement plan will cut them off from customers.
NCDOT approved a contract in March for S.T. Wooten Construction to replace nine bridges—seven in Brunswick County, including the bridge over River Swamp and Hog Branch on Midway Road about 4 miles south of Old Ocean Highway.
Heather Burkert and her husband, Henry, own Greenlands Farmstore about 1.5 miles south of Old Ocean Highway on Midway Road.
They learned in the past two weeks that Midway Road, a main connection to Oak Island—a large part of their customer base—would be closed for six months while the bridge is replaced.
Burkert said only property owners next to the bridge received notification from NCDOT.
NCDOT intends to detour traffic onto Gilbert Road SE and to Benton Road SE to reach Old Ocean Highway to get back to Midway Road.
Burkert said that detour adds 12 miles onto any trip to Midway Road.
She said the detour is a concern for the business and because the road is an evacuation route.
“They have to fix the bridge—I understand that the bridge was built in 1951,” Burkert said.
Amanda Glynn, NCDOT’s bridge program manager, said the bridge was last rehabilitated in 1963 and the timber and concrete structure needs replacing with an all-concrete design.
The contractor had originally planned to begin work in March 2013. Glynn said NCDOT has already received one request to delay the bridgework until after Labor Day.
“We’ve had requests not to close (the road) during prime beach season, not to close during hurricane season and not to close during the holiday season,” Glynn said. “We’re kind of running out of times.”
Burkert said the March-to-September schedule would be a bad time for her business.
She contacted NCDOT to ask for the schedule to be changed to begin in January—a slightly less bad time for her business.
Greenlands Farmstore has a community supported agriculture (CSA) program where buyers commit to buying a half-bushel of produce each week for 10 weeks. Some 30 to 40 people are involved, Burkert said.
“We do it in the spring, summer and fall. It’s a big thing for us,” Burkert explained. “The problem will be meeting them on the Oak Island side. We will have to make arrangements to take (produce) to that side. The problem is when they are in the store they buy other stuff. We will be cut off from that revenue.”
A public meeting was Thursday, Dec. 13, after Burkert contacted NCDOT. She posted a notice to her Facebook page to invite other concerned parties, but the Burkerts were the only Midway Road representatives.
Burkert wanted the meeting to convince NCDOT to reconsider closing the road and instead put in a temporary bridge.
“They are not going to do anything. It’s our problem,” Burkert said.
Glynn said the cost for replacing the bridge while keeping the road open would be close to $1 million, twice the estimated price of closing the road.
“Building an on-site detour doubles the construction cost,” Glynn said.
Burkert said their only hope is delaying replacing the bridge until January 2014.
“That would give us a year to prepare for the detour,” Burkert said. “To get our client base to accept (the detour).”
Glynn said there are different types of bridges being replaced by the contractor that could allow the schedule to be shuffled, but NCDOT does not have a replacement schedule yet. They meet with the contractor again Jan. 17, 2013.
The Friday after the meeting, Burkert was disillusioned with NCDOT, but not ready to give up.
“We’ll see if there is any recourse with other parties than the NCDOT. We’ll at least let DOT know, they may have the right to do this, but that does not make it right,” Burkert said. “We’ll work with whatever we have to work with. We don’t really have a choice.”
“I thought the meeting went well,” Glynn said. “Mrs. Burkert and her husband got their points out and we were able to make a compromise.”
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.