Hurricane Florence closed 1,600 roads in NC; soon all but one will be open again

As many as 1,600 roads were closed in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence raked the state with wind and flooding rains last September.

All but three of those roads had reopened by this week, and by the end of next week only one will remain closed as a result of the storm, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

As floodwaters peaked in the days after the hurricane, major highways in Eastern North Carolina were inundated, including sections of Interstates 95 and 40. All roads in and out of Wilmington were impassable for several days, and the NCDOT began making arrangements to bring supplies into the city by ship.

As the waters receded and downed trees and debris were removed, most of the roads quickly reopened. But hundreds of mostly secondary roads had been washed out and required more extensive repairs.

Floodwaters damaged a 48-inch metal pipe that carried a creek under Zion Church Road east of Mount Olive in Wayne County. Rather than simply replace the pipe, NCDOT decided a bridge would better handle future floods. The new bridge opened Friday.

And in Brunswick County, contractors will finish installing two new aluminum pipes under East Boiling Spring Road and reopen it by the middle of next week, according to NCDOT.

That will leave only one road closure related to Hurricane Florence, though the work is actually being done just over the state line in South Carolina. U.S. 1 has remained closed south of Rockingham since the storm and isn’t expected to reopen until about July 1, said NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott.

Hurricane Florence closed more than twice as many roads as Hurricane Matthew did two years earlier, but it took NCDOT less time to recover. Matthew damaged or destroyed more than 660 state-maintained roads in October 2016, and 14 remained closed by the following spring.

Since Matthew, NCDOT has begun stockpiling plastic, aluminum and concrete pipe in counties throughout the state, so those supplies are on hand when roads get washed out. After Matthew, the department found it had to wait weeks after ordering some of the materials it needed to make repairs.

“I have been in state transportation 30 years — through hurricanes Fran and Floyd and others — and I’d never seen flash flooding like we experienced with Florence or the widespread impacts across the state,” Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said in a statement released Friday. “Our primary goal was to restore access as quickly and safely as possible. Having all roads reopened within seven months took teamwork from employees across the department.”

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.