Ocracoke Update:  Life without a highway
February 15, 2008


The end is now in sight
With Slideshow

By JAMIE TUNNELL

Intermittent warmer days, the lull of the off-season, and an itch for the on-season have been the cause of the overactive imaginations and loose tongues last week. Rumors floated through Hatteras and Ocracoke islands that the bridges of Highway 12 on Ocracoke would be open today. That would have been almost a month before the scheduled deadline of March 15.
 
“That’s just a rumor,” said Pablo Hernandez, N.C. Department of Transportation project manager for the bridge replacement and beach detour.

“Overall, the progress and quality of work to date is outstanding. To remove six bridges and replace with concrete structures, along with a twin culvert, in approximately six weeks is a remarkable accomplishment.”

As reported on the Web site, www.ocracokebridges.com, the deck slabs and concrete barrier rails are installed and have been grouted in place (ready for traffic) at five bridges -- Bridge 49, Bridge 46, Bridge 42, Bridge 39, and Bridge 31. The culvert pipes have been installed at the sixth bridge site from the Pony Pens.

At one point of the process, the contractor, Carolina Bridge, put up a notice at the Post Office to keep people up to date and to ask for help rallying for delivery of the pre-cast concrete. Despite the best intention of the contractor to help along his progress, the notice started a ripple of panic that there could be significant delays. Several on the local level agreed that it was poor judgment to post. Otherwise, there has been great communication between all the parties involved.

In fact, the pre-cast concrete has all arrived and this very unique project with known and unpredictable issues, unpredictable weather, and all sorts of questions marks is now in the final stages.
 “We are cleaning up and hauling away some of the old stuff,” said Hernandez.  “On Tuesday, we were waiting for 10 loads of pre-cast concrete, and it never showed.  We used that time to get other projects done. We’re never just sitting around and waiting. It turned out that the concrete plant was down for maintenance.”

Jarvis Williams, who is under contract to DOT to tow vehicles that get stuck on the beach and is now known locally as the “tow guy,” was told he may be released by the first of March.

“I had the slowest day today I’ve had,” Williams said on Thursday, Feb. 14.  By 5 p.m. that day he had not received any calls for a tow.  “I’ve hauled some of the two-wheel vehicles on my trailer, but no calls for a tow.”
He estimated that he had towed about 160 vehicles to date during the beach detour project. He commented on the cooperation of the community and the fast pace of the contracting crews.

Next on the list is to smooth out the transition between the road and the new bridges. There’s about 1/8 inch difference and RPC Contracting of Kitty Hawk will be on the site Feb. 18 to start.

“This work will entail providing a safer and smoother transition with asphalt from the existing roadway to the new bridges and culvert and shaping the roadway shoulder and slopes,” said Hernandez. “Currently the gravel transitions to the bridges are not ideal from a traffic safety standpoint.  Despite the rumors, there are no plans to open Highway 12 with a lane closure(s) while this work takes place.  This work will not be effective working in a lane closure.  This roadway/asphalt work is anticipated to take a few weeks, weather depending.”

Two crews remain on the project while two crews left the project last week.

“All along our goal has been to replace the aging structures as quickly and safely as possible with quality in mind and to reconnect Ocracoke village to the rest of the Outer Banks,” Hernandez added.
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