Governor visits site of US 421 Florence washout

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Hurricane floodwaters washed out 500-foot section of the highway at the New Hanover-Pender county line

PENDER COUNTY – A fresh patch of asphalt and dozens of orange traffic cones situated along U.S. 421 are all that mark the scene of one of the worst instances of destruction done by Hurricane Florence.

Traffic now flows through the area, which was closed until late October, thanks to a temporary bridge built over the spot where the storm completely washed away a 500-foot section of the busy artery at the New Hanover-Pender county line.

It’s a Band-Aid for a bigger project to rebuild a more durable bridge, one that could allow rising floodwaters to pass through the site more easily.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper visited the site to survey the temporary structure and thank the crews preparing to build the permanent bridge.

As he walked down across a disturbed mixture of broken pavement, sand vegetative debris, the governor made his way to the water that flows underneath the bridge. In it, an uprooted tree, branches and leaves still float in the water, held in place by a temporary dam.

“It is clear there was significant devastation to this road and it’s important that it be built back, but more resilient,” Cooper said.

He added, “When we are rebuilding our structures, we’ve got to be rebuilding smarter and stronger. That’s what’s being done here.”

Construction on the new bridge — which will actually be two 560-foot bridges heading north and southbound — is scheduled to begin in January, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation. The two bridges will each have two 12-foot wide lanes and concrete riding surface.

By building a bridge, the DOT said future flooding in the area can pass more efficiently underneath. Before the storm, only a 38-inch pipe ran under the road, forcing backed up floodwaters to topple the roadway and eventually cause it to crumble.

One side of the permanent bridge will be built at a time, so traffic will not be stopped by construction.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or