Zion Church Road in Wayne County

Damage from Hurricane Florence on Zion Church Road in Wayne County. Photo courtesy NC-DOT

North Carolina transportation officials today reopened the last road in the state that had been closed since Hurricane Florence struck last fall.

Zion Church Road, a two-lane stretch east of Mount Olive, reopened to traffic after workers inspected the new bridge and adjusted its new guardrail.

The Wayne County road was one of about 2,500 road closure sites reported during the storm, some in multiple locations on the same road, and others several times in the same spot as floodwaters rose, receded and rose again. Hurricane Florence dropped an estimated 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina in mid-September, causing catastrophic damage to many parts of the state, including its roadway system.

“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,” said Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon. “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."

In many cases, there were temporary repairs made to restore mobility in a storm-stricken community while a plan for a permanent solution was put in place. A key part of those planning efforts included determining if the infrastructure needed to be upgraded to be more resilient in future storms. Zion Church Road is one of those examples. NCDOT engineers determined the existing 48-inch pipe that carried water under the road was not adequate to handle future flooding and constructing a bridge was a better long-term solution.

DOT crews and contractors are continuing to make permanent repairs or upgrades at the remaining roads where temporary repairs were made.

Greatest Impacts

The biggest impacts from Hurricane Florence were to roads in the southeastern part of the state, including long sections of interstates 40 and 95.

The most severely damaged section of road in North Carolina was U.S. 421 at the New Hanover-Pender County line. More than 500 feet of the four-lane highway was washed away. Engineers determined the best long-term solution was bridging the area. Less than a month later, a temporary bridge was completed, restoring travel on this critical route into Wilmington. Construction is underway at that location on permanent bridges – one for each direction –with both bridges expected to open by the spring of 2020.

Preparing for future storms

NCDOT is increasing its use of computer programs that can forecast where and when flooding is likely to occur so that it can make appropriate plans to protect and repair roads even before the storm hits. The department is also stockpiling repair and construction supplies in specific locations based on damage from hurricanes Florence and Michael last fall so repairs for future storms can be made as quickly as possible.

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