Local News

New Hanover Co. bridge washed out by Hurricane Florence almost ready to open again

Posted September 10, 2019 6:12 p.m. EDT

— A major roadway in New Hanover County washed out by Hurricane Florence a year ago Tuesday will soon be passable for drivers getting to and from Wilmington.

State officials dedicated the Highway 421 bridge on Tuesday a year after it was washed out due to Hurricane Florence. Drivers have been using a temporary bridge since then.

This new bridge is supposed to open at the end of this month. Engineers plan to tear down the temporary bridge and start construction on a new bridge similar to the concrete one. Traffic will switch over to the main bridge, more than 500 feet long.

NC DOT officials said the new design is made to withstand extreme floodwaters, should another weather event like Hurricane Florence strike again. Last-minute touches continued Tuesday to the highway washed out from Hurricane Florence as the ceremony took place.

Gov. Roy Cooper at Tuesday's bridge dedication

"We know this artery is to southeastern North Carolina and particularly to Wilmington, and we know that we had to get on the job," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Joyce and husband "Buddy" Suggs are Wilmington residents and had to adjust to limited road access after Hurricane Florence.

"It's the main thoroughfare into Wilmington, from up this way, everywhere up this way," Joyce Suggs said. "We'd have to leave here if we had an appointment with the doctor ... we'd have to leave here way ahead of time so that we could get to the doctor's office and back here."

Officials hope the repair and new abilities of the bridge will be a lasting benefit to travelers.

Hwy. 421 bridge almost set to open

"When Hurricane Florence came a few days after, I was standing right over there ... looking at this catastrophe of a washed out area of 421," Cooper said.

Highway 421 remained closed for days until state officials opened a temporary bridge in October 2018. Engineers say construction of the permanent concrete bridge is stronger than the underground piping concept that had been in place.

"We knew what the floodwaters ... how high they came up last time," said Karen Collette, NC Department of Transportation Division 3 engineer said. "So we actually designed around that elevation to make sure if we had some type of Florence event, this bridge would still be left standing.

"Highways connect people, hospitals, homes, businesses, and we need to make sure those highways are built in a way that get people where they need to go as quickly as possible," Cooper said.