Plan for Hubert Thomas Road bridge unknown
by Kellen Short
The N.C. Department of Transportation is still deciding what to do with a damaged and closed bridge on Hubert Thomas Road in western Watauga County.
Original plans to abandon the road and bridge have been met with opposition from some nearby property owners, so the department is now considering a repair job.
"I can't say with 100 percent guarantee, but more than likely we'll make the necessary repairs to get the bridge back open," said David Wayne, division bridge maintenance engineer.
Hubert Thomas Road and its low-water bridge connect U.S. 321 to Old Watauga River Road and serve as a shortcut for residents headed toward Boone.
Wayne said a heavy load crossing the bridge damaged the structure and caused its closure in late July or early August, around the same time heavy floods occurred. The bridge had settled about four inches on one end when DOT crews arrived to check for flood damage, he said.
"We were just fortunate enough to be there to close it before anybody got hurt," he said.
Wayne said the DOT has considered abandoning the bridge and road, which serves no homes, to cut costs. Road or structure abandonment usually occurs at the request of local property owners, rather than the DOT, he said, and requires property owners to sign a petition and other legal documents.
But he said he didn't think that would be a viable option based on early conversations with area residents.
George Cable, who lives on Old Watauga River Road, said his
one-lane, gravel road is commonly used by runners, bikers and horseback riders.
Without Hubert Thomas Road available as a shortcut, vehicles will be forced to travel farther among the pedestrians on Old Watauga River Road, he said.
Numerous Baptist churches in the area use the bridge for immersion baptisms, he added.
Cable said the DOT's possible permanent closure of the road would not take into account the significance of the road to the community.
"If it was important in 1940 to build the bridge and to allow for that road for the local traffic, then it's certainly much more important now that we have much more traffic," he said.
Wayne, the bridge engineer, said the DOT's current workload means the road will remain closed for at least another month. He said he hoped once work began that it would be repaired within a week.