A portion of one of the most popular thoroughfares in the High Country and the state will be closed to traffic during one of the busiest times of the tourist season.
The N.C. Department of Transportation started work on replacing the bridge over Old Field Creek on Railroad Grade Road, in Fleetwood, on Wednesday, April 2., and construction will continue through most of the summer.
During the course of the project, a portion of Railroad Grade Road between U.S. 221 and the Fleetwood Post Office will be closed to traffic.
Motorists will be detoured from U.S. 221 to Liberty Grove Church Road and then reroute back to Railroad Grade Road. Eastbound traffic will go in the reverse direction.
For commuters driving to Boone, the detour will add approximately four miles to their trip, while those traveling to West Jefferson will drive an extra 10 miles.
According to Doug Eller, Resident Engineer NCDOT Division 11 (Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin counties), the construction contract lasts from March 31 to Nov. 15, with the new bridge expected to open to traffic around the first of August.
J.R. Vannoy and Sons Construction Company was awarded the contract worth $466,180 to complete the project which includes grading work, drainage, paving and replacing the bridge.
Construction is already having an impact on residents and students who live along Railroad Grade Road.
“We’re having to re-route (buses),” Ashe County Schools Director of Transportation Shea Coldiron said. “It’s not that bad. There’s only a few (students) affected.”
Area business owners don’t yet know what kind, if any impact the closure will have on business in the coming months.
“I do believe it will have an affect on the cyclists and some of the tourists coming through,” Helen Barnes-Reilly, owner of Todd Mercantile, said. “It’s (Railroad Grade Road) a major part of our business.”
Kelly McCoy, owner of RiverGirl Fishing Company, isn’t too worried.
“It won’t affect me, really,” McCoy said. “We do everything in Todd and most of our customers come in via Cranberry Springs Road.”
Both Barnes-Reilly and McCoy were surprised, however, when they learned of the bridge replacement and road closure. Neither were aware of the project.
Railroad Grade Road is a 10-mile stretch of paved, country road between Todd and Fleetwood, built upon an old railroad grade that was used by the Virginia-Carolina Railroad, better known as the “Virginia Creeper.” It’s immensely popular among cyclists and its location along the South Fork of the New River makes it an access point for fishermen and tubers.
The current bridge was originally open to traffic in 1970 and is now considered “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.”
Repairs were last made to the bridge in June 2012 to rehabilitate steel girders, replace some steel planks and pave the road over the bridge.
Upon completion, the new bridge over Old Field Creek will be 82 feet in length, to provide for greater hydraulic flow and improve flood resistance.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.