The steel beams that will hold the deck of the bridge are now in place. Crews will begin pouring concrete in about 3-4 weeks.
SMITHFIELD -- The construction over the Neuse River is starting to look like a bridge.
Last week, crews finished installing steel girders across the span of the bridge. The girders will serve as support for the deck that will eventually link downtown and West Smithfield.
By Wednesday of last week, crews were installing diaphragms between the 27 girders spanning the bridge. Diaphragms provide structural support. This week, crews are scheduled to begin building the deck.
Installation of the girders marked the halfway point of the eight-month project to replace the aging bridge over the Neuse River. It’s part of the Department of Transportation’s effort to replace older bridges statewide.
In three to four weeks, crews will begin pouring concrete over the framework, said DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Garifo. Then they’ll begin paving the deck and installing railings.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said.
The bridge is scheduled for completion in May, but DOT officials are cautiously optimistic about an earlier wrap-up. The contractor — D.H. Griffin Construction Co. of Raleigh — has a monetary incentive to finish the work ahead of schedule.
Garifo said an early completion is a distinct possibility at the current pace, but that could change if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.
“It’s all weather-dependent,” she said. “Right now, things are looking really good. We’re hopeful that things will take less time, but it’s still too early to tell. “
The $5.3-million project will bring the bridge in line with modern safety standards. It will also be more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians, with walking and multi-use paths alongside the five lanes of pavement..
But the town is experiencing some pains while crews work on the bridge. The project has brought traffic along Market Street to a trickle while opening the floodgates along detour roads Booker Dairy and Buffalo.
The project has seriously impacted businesses as well. At least two shops on Market Street — The Cakery and 7th Street Marketplace — have reduced their hours since he bridge closed. And after 30 years in Smithfield, the Kmart on West Market Street is going out of business; the Herbal Wellspring shop in downtown has already closed.
About the only businesses that haven’t suffered are well known destinations like Gandolfo’s Deli. The restaurant’s owner, Scott Gandolph, chalks it up to the sandwich shop’s reputation. “We’ve been extremely blessed, and it hasn’t really affected us,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of guests come in from the west side of town and have lunch.”
His customers are less lucky, at least when it comes to travel times. Jerry McRae lives on the east side of town but travels weekly to visit his granddaughter, who lives just off the N.C. 210 on the west side of the river. His detour often takes him through school zones as kids are getting out, creating a headache.
But McRae said he expects such headaches during a major project like this. “Having to go all the way around is a lot of trouble, but we’re making do,” he said. “We’re making the best of it.”