Watauga River bridge

The N.C. 105 Watauga River bridge, photographed in March 2019, is now slated to be replaced starting in 2021.

FOSCOE — Citing a readjustment of cash balances, the N.C. Department of Transportation has delayed replacing the N.C. 105 Watauga River bridge between Boone and Foscoe to March 2021.

The postponement is from the previously confirmed start date of March 2020, which was announced in early 2019.

N.C. Department of Transportation Division Engineer Mike Pettyjohn said on Jan. 2 that the change was one of several across the state they have made “to fit (its) budget model.”

The delay is the second on the bridge project, which was originally set to begin in fall 2019. Pettyjohn said the first delay was due to “financial balancing” of the N.C. State Transportation Improvement Project, which is a nine-year list of approved and planned NCDOT projects that is updated every two years, as well as not having right-of-ways secured for the project.

According to media reports, the NCDOT has been under scrutiny from N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell and legislative leaders for its spending in the wake of multi-million-dollar natural disasters in the last two years. In September, the NCDOT suspended work on 900 projects across the state, including the N.C. 105 Watauga River bridge. NCDOT Secretary Jim Trodgon said the agency made the move to save money.

Plans for the Watauga River bridge on N.C. 105, as previously explained by NCDOT engineer Ramie Shaw, call for a new bridge parallel to the current bridge. The construction of the four-lane bridge will come with lane closures at non-peak hours for blasting. The adjoining intersection of Broadstone Road and N.C. 105, including a planned left-turn lane, is part of the bridge project, Pettyjohn said.

The new bridge is a subsection of a 4.5-mile widening of N.C. 105 that is planned between Old Shull’s Mill Road in Foscoe to the N.C. 105 Bypass in Boone.

Widening of N.C. 105 is still scheduled to start in October 2022, Pettyjohn said.

The project is currently estimated to cost $49.3 million and it has no currently scheduled completion date.

Plans to widen N.C. 105 have been debated since they were first proposed in 2008. The original N.C. 105 widening project would have traversed more than 14 miles from Boone to Linville in Avery County, but was scaled back in 2015 to include only the current 4.5 miles.

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