Old swing bridge will then be locked open until it is removed

PENDER COUNTY -- Originally scheduled to open in September 2019, the new Surf City bridge will, instead, open on Tuesday -- some 10 months ahead of projections, the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced.

Tuesday’s ribbon cutting will take place on the mainland side of the bridge beginning at 10 a.m., with brief remarks from local and state officials. Prior to the opening ceremony, island residents will be allowed to cross the bridge on foot to join the festivities.

The early opening of the bridge is good news for Balfour Beatty, which won the contract for the $54 million span. The company will earn incentives totaling $10,000 per day for each day the bridge is open prior to the contract date next fall –- about $3 million. But early opening is a good deal for taxpayers, too, according to the DOT.

“We calculate the incentive dollars based on user cost of the existing facility,” former communications Brian Rick said earlier this year. “In this case, we will be replacing a functionally obsolete bridge with a 75-year structure. Traffic flow will be uninterrupted across the (Intracoastal Waterway), and we will no longer have to maintain and/or operate the swing bridge.”

Maintenance of the old swing bridge had grown increasingly more expensive as the outdated structure aged.

“The operation and maintenance cost of the existing swing bridge is about $225,000 per year,” Rick noted. “When we factor in the user cost of $2.4 million on top of that, we can justify the incentive. We can't quantify the number of times the bridge will break down and be inoperable,” if it were kept in operation over another year, he said.

The incentive payments are not all gravy to the contractor and the subs.

“Balfour Beatty and all the subcontractors involved have basically had to double their staffs,” in order to complete the job so quickly, Rick pointed out. “Additionally, the contractor had to purchase additional equipment.”

The new bridge is 3,600 feet long and, at its apex, 65 feet above the waterway. Roundabouts at each end, a design feature that is becoming more widely used in North Carolina, will control traffic.

The bridge’s sweeping curve reflects both the challenge of rising so high above the water without making the incline too severe, and Surf City's desire to protect a nearby public park.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the bridge is a wide bicycle and pedestrian lane across its span -- a lane wide enough to serve standard vehicles in the event of an island-wide evacuation.

Once the new bridge opens to traffic, the old swing bridge will be locked in an open position until it is removed next year. The fate of the bridge has yet to be determined.

Contact the Metro desk at 910-343-2384 or Breakingnews@StarNewsOnline.com.