Jan. 31—A dreaded bridge rebuild on the U.S. 23-74 bypass between Lowe's and Waynesville that was expected to cause major traffic inconveniences will now see more limited impacts due to a scaled-back design.
It won't be without hassles, however. All westbound traffic on the bypass will be detoured through Waynesville for about a month at some point during construction. When that would be is not yet known, though it would likely be sometime in 2026. Otherwise, all lanes in both directions will be open except for an occasional reduction to one lane at night.
The bridge replacement project initially included a redesign of merging lanes at the Lake Junaluska exit — including a fly-over style interchange. But when ballooning cost estimates topped $60 million, the project was canceled at the 11th hour last year and sent back to the drawing board.
The new version has now been unveiled by the N.C. Department of Transportation. It nixes everything from the project except a basic replacement of the bridges.
"The original scope seemed to be overly broad and very expensive," said Waynesville Town Council Member Anthony Sutton. "It would have been very impactful to business and travelers to and from Waynesville and Lake Junaluska."
Sutton, who serves on the regional DOT advisory body, advocated for a scaled-back version — echoing views shared by the public during project input meetings.
"We wanted to ensure there were no major interruptions," Sutton said. "It was very helpful that lots of people in our community voiced their opinions in a very constructive way to make that happen."
One of the bridge projects is where the bypass goes over Richland Creek. All lanes of the bypass will remain open with limited overnight exceptions.
That won't be the case with the other bridge replacement project near exit 103. That bridge carries westbound lanes of the bypass over the U.S. 19 onramp — namely, where U.S. 19 merges with the bypass if coming from Lake Junaluska.
All westbound traffic on the bypass would have to exit and detour through town. It will be coordinated with the construction on Russ Avenue to provide a detour route.
"Our goal is to impact traffic to the least extent possible," said Wanda Payne, division engineer over the N.C. Department of Transportation's westernmost counties.
While the project will no longer create traffic delays from lane closures on the bypass, it also won't include some of the safety features that were part of the original design — namely, a longer merging lane for those getting on the bypass from Lake Junaluska.
The cost of replacing the two bridges will clock in at $42.5 million. The DOT awarded a construction contract to Zachry Construction Company of San Antonio for $42.5 million.