PILOT MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- Officials with the Department of Transportation admitted to residents Thursday night they did not communicate well when it came to planning the replacement of the Highway 268 bridge.
The project, already underway, came without warning to many residents and business owners. Business owners say the removal and confusing detours has cut the number of Highway 52 travel customers nearly in half.
“People in general do not want to take a detour,” said Debbie Butner of Cousin Gary's Restaurant. Butner says she's seen a 40 percent to 45 percent drop in weekday customers. “You know we are all hurting. Right now I feel bad for everybody as well as myself."
Transportation officials closed the bridge just before July 4, keeping the holiday customers and many of the anticipated summer travelers from stopping in town.
In addition to apologizing, the contractor told residents an additional crew will now be assigned to the project to help finish by December. The original plans called for the project to be completed by the summer of 2015.
“A year was impossible... it just really was,” said Donald Mueller with Mountain View Restaurant. He's losing about 300 customers weekly due to the project and it is forcing him to cut back his lunch menu.
“Our lunch hour, we had to close our buffet because we were wasting too much food," he said. "But that's a temporary solution to this problem and with a six month outlook I think we can survive this and come out stronger in the end.”
The bridge, built in 1960, was considered functionally obsolete and structurally deficient, which mean that although the bridge is safe, it was built to design standards no longer in use and requires costly maintenance to remain functional.
Transportation officials say they will look at improving the detour signs. Residents are pushing for locals to shop locally as a way of helping the local business survive over the next six months.