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By Charlotte Smith

The U.S. Highway 701 southbound bridge over the Cape Fear River in Elizabethtown has been closed since Hurricane Florence. A log jam under the bridge in has been a costly issue for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and is the reason for the continued closure of the bridge.

The log jam first appeared after Hurricane Matthew, but grew to an enormous size after Hurricane Florence. The extreme amount of debris under the bridge has caused concerns about possible damage to the bridge. According to Andrew Barksdale, Public Relations Officer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, progress has been made with the debris removal.

“They have completed about 15 percent,” Barksdale said on December 14 when asked about the contractors work on the log jam.

The week of November 16th work had to cease due to the excessive amount of rain fall and the rise in the river.

Barksdale said this week, “The river is rising again and flooding the parking lot, where we stage our heavy equipment, such as dump trucks, loaders, excavators.“ He continued, “We can’t stage our equipment when the parking lot is flooded. The parking lot is not designed to hold the weight of that equipment when it’s under water. Plus, the equipment would cause erosion problems if we operated it in the parking lot while it’s under water.”

Therefore continued work on the log jam had to be stopped again. “This is the third time the parking lot has flooded since they began around Nov. 1. Normally, this parking lot will flood once a year,” Barksdale reported.

Some of the log dam is disappearing by floating on downstream, due to the rising and falling of the river during the wet weather we have had, according to Barksdale.

He said, “There is nothing we can do to stop some of the debris floating downstream, so ultimately, this will speed up our efforts.”

Barksdale announced, “The crew expects to work through the end of January on removing the debris jam.”

The US Fish and Wildlife does not allow construction (and this project qualifies) in the river beginning Feb. 1 until sometime later in the year. The contractors do have the target date of January 31 to have the debris removal process completed, according to Barksdale.

When asked about damages to the bridge, Barksdale said, “We do not visibly see any damage to the bridge. But, we can’t fully inspect it until the log jam is out of the way. Thus, we have to keep it closed as a safety precaution.”

The southbound bridge will remain closed until further notice while debris removal and fender repairs are being made.

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