Dillsboro Bridge

By Dave Russell

Signs reading “detour” and “road closed” will soon direct drivers traveling from Dillsboro to Sylva and vice-versa. 

The decision on how to replace the Haywood Road bridge over Scotts Creek in Dillsboro is final – the road will be closed.

What this means for drivers:

Until July 6, the bridge is open.

From July 6 until mid- to late-September, while Dillsboro Road is closed due to construction, drivers will detour on U.S. 23/74 or North River Road/Yellow Bird Branch Road/Savannah Drive.

Upon completion of the Dillsboro Road construction, local traffic may detour through Monteith Park on Old Hometown Road.

The new bridge is set for completion in about nine months, putting the opening date sometime in the spring of 2021.

The original plan for the project, formulated in 2015, called for the construction of a temporary bridge paralleling the existing structure.

The contractor, Wright Brothers Construction of Charleston, Tennessee, began work on the temporary bridge earlier this year.

In early April, they proposed what is known as a value engineering proposal to the N.C. Department of Transportation, asking to close the road to save time and money – about $3 million. Wright Brothers and the DOT would split it down the middle at about $1.5 million each. The contractor then offered Dillsboro a 70/30 split of their half, with Dillsboro on the short end. The town would receive about $450,000, though the pool might have shrunk as the contractor has continued to work on the bridge.

Closing the road means the work would go faster and cheaper by eliminating the construction of the temporary bridge.

The DOT dropped below its cash floor of $293 million in May. Legislation limits what the DOT can do at that point. Entering into – and changing – contracts is forbidden, and the prospect of moving ahead with the value engineering proposal dimmed, Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said at the time.

The proposal was kicked up the DOT ladder and all the way to the General Assembly for clarification, he said.

The general counsel for the Department of Transportation, Daniel Johnson, gave the go-ahead last week, Burch said.

“We’re moving forward with it,” he said. “One of the big factors was the cost-savings for the department, and then also the lesser impacts to the traveling public, by doing it this quickly.”

Michael Prince, construction manager over the project, said he doesn’t yet know how much money Dillsboro will receive.

“I don’t have the approved supplemental agreement,” he said. “It was based off the total value, so once I get that from the DOT I’ll be able to generate it.”

The road would close later than the June date originally floated by DOT, Prince said. 

“The last conversation I had with the DOT and the town of Dillsboro, we’re shooting for July 6, the Monday after the Fourth of July,” he said. 

Dillsboro Road, currently blocked off for construction of a retaining wall and sidewalk, will remain closed until “somewhere between the middle and end of September,” he said.

Sylva leaders on April 24 sent DOT a letter staunchly opposing the closure of Haywood Road. DOT wrote back addressing Sylva’s issues, and a followup email from Division 14 Construction Engineer Ted Adams to Sylva Mayor Lynda Sossamon indicated if the VEP had not gone through, the work would be significantly delayed.

“I do want you to know that the prime contractor was planning on limiting their schedule to a 40-hour work week, if the proposal was not approved,” Adams wrote. “Due to our budget issues, the NCDOT has given all contractors the option of slowing their construction work down to a 40-hour week and granting them two days per week of time extension.”

That would have put the completion date closer to January 2024, he stated.

Sossamon feels the town did everything it could to stick to the original plan, but likes the new timeline.

“It will speed the process up, and I agree that will be good,” she said. 

She is concerned about the impact on Sylva’s businesses.

“People can still get to businesses in Dillsboro if they are coming from Franklin or out of town, and normally if those people stop in Dillsboro, they will continue on to Sylva,” she said. “They’re not going to be able to do that as easily with the road closed, so I think it will be something of a detriment to our businesses if people have to get back out on the highway and go around. Some people are going to say ‘Well, I don’t know if it is going to be worth it.’”