Gov. Roy Cooper announces opening of bridge on US 421


NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The Cape Fear region was still recovering from Hurricane Florence when Hurricane Dorian blew in last week. Florence left behind the state’s largest washout of a major road on Highway 421.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the governor touched on damage from hurricanes Matthew, Florence, and Dorian, and talked about the need to be better prepared for the future.

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When Hurricane Florence caused historic flooding in our area nearly a year ago, it turned Wilmington into an island, inaccessible by car in several areas. One of those areas was US Highway 421, where more than 500 feet of roadway washed out near the New Hanover and Pender County line.

The section of road remained closed for nearly seven weeks, negatively impacting many people and some businesses, like Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood, which depends on 421.

“We got a lot of people that come in here and shop and use 421, but we also have employees that use 421 to get home and to get to work,” said Sammy Flowers, whose family owns Eagle Island.

On November 1, 2018, a temporary fix was put in place to reopen the road. Now, a permanent fix is on its way to being complete.

“We needed to think about building with a future storm in mind,” Gov. Cooper said.

NC DOT Division Three engineer Karen Collette says the old section of road had a culvert that let water pass through. With storms like Hurricane Florence in mind, they decided to replace this with two bridges, which will let water flow freely underneath.

“There was a 78 inch pipe up underneath here which allowed for about 32 square feet of area,” Collette said. “Now, with the bridge, there will be over 17,400 cubic feet of area.”

Collette says the project, which cost $8 million, will prevent another wash out in a storm similar to Florence. Flowers says this leaves him feeling more confident for future storms.

“The engineering of the new bridge is probably going to help things, even if we do get a flood situation, so those folks in Pender County don’t lose their access into Wilmington, or only have one access into Wilmington,” Flowers said.

The new bridge is set to open at the end of this month. When that happens, traffic in both directions will be shifted to the new bridge, so a second bridge can be built on the other side. That is expected to be complete in spring 2020.