Tensions rise as major bridge project in Beaufort could affect local businesses


BEAUFORT, Carteret County - Mixed reactions over the opening of a major bridge project is causing tensions to rise in Beaufort.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation could partially open the Gallants Channel Bridge by the end of 2017, but not all of Beaufort is excited about it.

It's a sore subject for business owners. Even officials representing the town of Beaufort want NCDOT to delay the bridge opening, at least until the Turner Street exit is complete. Carteret County Transportation Committee, however, recommends otherwise.

"The the feeling of the transportation committee was that for the good of the entire county that bridge should be opened as soon as possible," Tom Keis, a representative from Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, said.

The old drawbridge is the only way into town from the west on Highway 70. At the end of the year, NCDOT plans to shut it down and open two lanes of the new Gallants Channel Bridge. If this plan goes through, the Turner Street exit won't open until May 2018 -- making it harder to get into downtown from the west.

"That's the discrepancy," Keis said. "That would mean four months when people would be exiting on route 101 instead of turner street."

"Everyone comes to Beaufort as a destination," Wendy Davidson, a board member from Downtown Beaufort Development Association said. "They may be on their way to Ocracoke or the down east communities and our concern is that without proper signage and it being a finished project that we are going to be bypassed."

An October 9 resolution sent to NCDOT clearly states that the town wants a delay. It claims that negative economic and safety impacts may occur as a result of the confusion and inconvenience.

Keis said that the opening of the bridge won't help business owners, but it's important to remember other North Carolinians.

"Not only do we want to see Turner Street opened for the downtown folks here in Beaufort, but we want to see the bridge open for the folks down east," he said.

"They are going to open the bridge and I understand the necessity for that -- people have been waiting a very long time," Davidson said. "But if we can't have the Turner Street open at least if we could use the old causeway that would alleviate the concerns of the merchants."

A spokesperson for NCDOT told NewsChannel 12's Adaure Achumba that the contractor is currently not behind schedule, although a September 2017 projection had to be revised due to a delay by Duke Energy.

The contractor can possibly finish the project by the new date on May 2018, but if the contactor doesn't finish by the revised date, it will face daily fines.

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