MARION – Motorists traveling I-40 east of Asheville may have noticed work on a new bridge at Sugar Hill Road has stalled.
That’s because the contractor working on the $12.3 million bridge replacement in McDowell County has defaulted on its contract, according to a press release from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
The NCDOT terminated its contract with National Bridge Builders LLC, of Kernersville, because of the “contractor’s failure to resolve payment issues, provide project milestones with a plan of action, and provide sufficient labor and equipment to complete the project,” the press release states.
“Unfortunately we have run out of options with this contractor,” Mark Gibbs, division engineer with the DOT’s Division 13, based in Asheville, said in the release. “This is unfortunate for McDowell County residents and folks who drive through the construction zone. We will work with the bonding company and a future contractor to complete the project as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The Citizen Times was unable to reach officials with National Bridge Builders for comment.
The DOT said National Bridge completed about 55% of the bridge work and was paid $7.1 million. The bridge, part of Sugar Hill Road, will run over I-40.
It will be completed, but it will take longer.
The DOT has procedures “in place and experience in completing projects with bonding companies,” the release notes. For all DOT contracts, the state requires the contractor to have a bonding company in case a contract is terminated.
The bonding company in this case, Frankenmuth Insurance Company, is now responsible for the Sugar Hill Road bridge replacement at exit 81. The bridge will be a three-lane structure, and the project includes additional safety and mobility improvements.
“The project delay and shift in contractors will not cost the state any additional funds, as a bond secures the completion of the original contract and any additional costs,” the release states.
A similar situation occurred in Asheville a half-decade ago on the construction of a replacement bridge on I-26 over Pond Road. The contractor, Michigan-based DeVere Construction, walked off the job, leaving the bond company with the task of hiring a new contractor to finish the job.
The $12 million Pond Road bridge project took more than a year longer to finish than first planned, concluding in late 2017 after nearly five years of work, total. The half-mile-long project surpassed the time needed to build the 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, an engineering feat that took four-and-a-half years to build.
Work started at the Pond Road crossing in October 2012.
In Marion, the bridge construction began in July 2019 and had an original completion date of March 2022.
“Over the next several months, Frankenmuth will collect information, documents and data, before finding another contractor to complete the work,” the release states. “Traffic will remain in its current pattern until construction resumes.”
Work won’t resume until a new contractor is hired to take over the job, which should happen later this year, the DOT said. In the meantime, the DOT will maintain the roads, erosion control and other aspects until the contractor is hired.
The next contractor will have to shift traffic, build the second portion of the bridge, and finish extending the eastbound on-ramp, complete drainage improvements, plus traditional finishing with new asphalt and lane markings. A timetable will become clear once a new contractor has been hired, the DOT said.