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Start Date for Watauga River Bridge Replacement Project on Highway 105 will be March 2020

By Nathan Ham

The beginning date for replacing the bridge that crosses the Watauga River on Highway 105 will be March of 2020, according to North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 11 Project Manager Ramie Shaw.

“Our letting schedule is March 17, 2020, for this project,” Shaw said Wednesday afternoon.

Construction will begin soon thereafter and will include both daytime and nighttime construction and there will not be any required detours for travelers.

“We will not be closing the bridge so there will be no detours. We will be doing staged construction, building one lane of the bridge at a time keeping one lane open to traffic,” Shaw said.

There will also be some blasting needed at times for this project, however, Shaw said that the blasting will not be done during peak travel times. Lane closures during blasting are expected to be around 30 minutes.

While actual bridge construction work won’t begin for another nine months, utility work for the project is anticipated to get underway in July, according to local NCDOT board member Cullie Tarleton.

The bridge replacement is part of the NCDOT’s plan to widen 4.5 miles of Highway 105 from Broadstone Road in Foscoe to the Highway 105 Bypass in Boone. The estimated total cost of the project is $49.3 million.

Studies for this project began in 2011 when the NCDOT looked into widening 14.6 miles of Highway 105 from Linville to Boone. The project would be divided into two parts, first from Linville to Foscoe and then Foscoe to Boone. However, in 2012, a traffic forecast study for the year 2040 showed that the area from Linville to Foscoe did not have enough traffic volume to consider widening that section of the road at this time. The part of the road from Foscoe to Boone did fall in line with projections that road improvements needed to be made.

The environmental assessment for this project was approved in September of 2016 and property acquisition for the bridge replacement began last fall with the bridge replacement now slated to begin in the spring of 2020.

Once the bridge replacement is completed, property acquisition will begin for widening Highway 105 in the fall of 2023 with construction starting in the fall of 2025.

Two business locations are going to be affected by this bridge construction. The Ham Shoppe has already moved from its Highway 105 location. However, for the Watauga River Fly Shop, they are hanging in there until they are given their 30-day notice by the state to vacate their property. After that, the brick-and-mortar portion of the business will close.

“Basically as far as we are concerned it’s not ideal but we are closing the shop. For what we do as a fly shop, it was a perfect location, but financially it just doesn’t make sense for us to move up into Boone,” said owner Jeff Dean. “Our guide service is busy so we’re just going to drop the shop and keep going with the guide service.

Dean says that they have known for a few months now that this day would eventually come, so they have begun transitioning their business more towards the guide service and away from the store.

“Originally the DOT was saying that we would have to close in May. Now they said June. Unfortunately, we have no idea when we will close,” Dean said. “We’re staying in here until we have to be out and taking advantage of as much summer traffic as we can.”

When the original NCDOT plan for the Highway 105 widening was revealed, Dean said that neither his business nor the Ham Shoppe would be affected. At some point though, those plans changed and it was news to him when NCDOT employees walked into the shop to tell him.

“In the original road plans they were widening the road and going away from the shop so the turn lane business was new to us as of last October,” said Dean.

Dean will be compensated by the state for his property, but since he will not get the money until after he has to be out of the shop, it just did not make sense for him to look into moving Watauga River Fly Shop elsewhere.

I own this property. So for me to relocate, the money would have to come out of pocket for me to purchase a new property. I’m not seeing anything from the state until this is finalized,” said Dean. “We thought about relocating but anything and everything on 105 from Boone to Linville is potentially affected. Who knows when they will decide to widen the road. We’re on the Watauga River, it’s in our backyard here so it didn’t make sense to move to the other side of Boone and call ourselves the Watauga River Fly Shop. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and move on when the time comes.”