The 89-year-old Wilkinson Boulevard Bridge connecting Gaston to Mecklenburg County is to be replaced as part of a $56 million project slated to begin next summer.
The bridge, which currently has four lanes, will be replaced with a six-lane bridge that will have multi-use paths for cyclists and walkers on either side. The new bridge will also be taller, allowing more clearance for boats on the Catawba River, DOT spokesman Marcus Thompson said.
A six-lane bridge is intended to ease congestion on Wilkinson, which is six lanes wide on the Gaston side of the bridge and five lanes wide on the east side of the bridge.
The project is expected to start in July and last three to four years.
To allow people to continue crossing from Gaston to Mecklenburg County, the project will be completed in phases, Thompson said. During the first phase of the project, traffic will still use the existing bridge while the replacement is being built to the north.
The first stage will consist of the construction of four lanes on the new bridge.
Then, when those four lanes are complete, traffic will be moved to the new bridge and the existing bridge will be removed, Thompson said. In the second stage of the project, workers will widen the new bridge to six lanes, which will eventually allow three lanes of traffic in each direction, with a raised median and a path on either side of the bridge.
The project also includes a modification to the intersection of Wilkinson Boulevard and Catawba Street, Thompson said. The plan is to eliminate left-turn lanes and replace them with a separate lane that allows for a U-turn.
The state plans to include a path for cyclists and walkers not only on the bridge, but on both sides of Wilkinson and on Catawba Street. The path will connect Gaston College’s Kimbrell campus to Loftin Riverfront Park and the Iswa Nature Reserve.
Belmont City Manager Adrian Miller said Belmont city officials have been asking the state to replace the bridge for years.
“We are excited that this will be a six lane bridge. Each of the lanes will be wide enough to safely handle the volume of traffic and truck traffic,” Miller said. “Anyone who’s driven on this bridge knows that the lanes are narrow, and it’s kind of scary. It’s apparently a four-lane bridge, but it sort of works like a two- or three-lane bridge because people ride on these white lines.”
He said city leaders were also excited about the walking and biking trails on the side of the bridge.
“It’s a really well thought out bridge. It’s a great design,” he said.
The state originally approved funding for the project in 2017, but this funding was delayed, first in 2019 and then again in 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state reapproved funding for the project in 2021.
Journalist Kara Fohner can be reached at 704-869-1850 or [email protected] Support local journalism by signing up here.