Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2013

SALISBURY — One year to the day after it was deemed unsafe and closed to traffic, the Fisher Street bridge should reopen this evening, if paving and striping go as planned today.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Craig Powers, the city’s Street and Stormwater Services manager who oversaw the bridge repairs. “We’ve got a great product. The guys did a great job, and it should last for a good, long time.”
Powers joked that he planned to throw a party today to celebrate the reopening of not only Fisher Street bridge but also Shober Bridge on Ellis Street. Shober Bridge has been closed for two months.
The state found the bridges deficient during regular inspections in 2011 and 2012. The city spent roughly $286,000 on repairs, about $66,000 under budget, Powers said.
While downtown motorists who have been rerouted for months rejoice at the convenience of two reopened bridges, another project has some people avoiding Statesville Boulevard.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is resurfacing the boulevard from Innes Street to Jake Alexander Boulevard at no cost to the city. Vehicles can still use the road, but traffic was moving slowly Thursday around orange cones and large equipment.
Unlike the bridge repair, this inconvenience will be short-lived. Crews will continue paving through today, then break for the weekend. Paving will resume Monday and should wrap up by Tuesday night, according to Wendy Brindle, interim city engineer.
A proposal to re-stripe the boulevard with three travel lanes and a bike lane on either side proved unpopular with many residents. Although a vocal minority supported the idea to encourage bicycle use and slow down traffic, they were outnumbered and out-voiced during a heated public forum last year.
City Manager Doug Paris decided to keep four vehicle lanes, saying there wasn’t enough time before the state’s repaving deadline to seek community consensus.
Paris disagreed about the project with former City Engineer Dan Mikkelson, who wanted the bike lanes. When Mikkelson criticized Paris’ recent decision to fire two Parks and Recreation Department employees, Paris said it was sour grapes over Statesville Boulevard.
Mikkelson retired last month. He said Paris asked him to leave. Paris disagreed.
The state notified the city in December 2011 that Fisher Street bridge was deficient. The next month, DOT found Shober Bridge deficient.
The city came up with a state-approved action plan to monitor the bridges and address the repairs during the following budget year.
“During the monitoring, we discovered further problems with Fisher, which resulted in its closing,” Powers said.
Shober had no additional issues, so it remained open longer, he said.
The state identified structural deterioration under the bridges due to wear and tear. Then, the Fisher Street bridge developed a hole in the asphalt that city crews couldn’t patch, Powers said.
It took months to obtain permits from Norfolk Southern Railroad to do construction over their tracks, Powers said. While Shober Bridge remained open during the permitting process, Fisher Street bridge had to be closed, he said.
City and state DOT crews completed the repairs, and Powers said each bridge basically has a brand-new deck.
Shober Bridge is a controversial structure that historic preservationists treasure but others, including the railroad, want to replace.
The bridge isn’t going anywhere, Powers said.
“Shober Bridge will stay,” he said. “We are keeping the bridge.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.