Westbound New Bern Avenue will be closed Sunday where it crosses the Neuse River, so contractors for the city can break up piles of logs and other debris that have accumulated under the bridge.
When the logjam is cleared, the city plans to reopen a half dozen boat launches along the river that have been closed since January.
The city shut down the launches at the request of the fire department, which had responded to a rash of rescue calls on the river last winter, mostly at the New Bern Avenue bridge, says Brian Smith, the city’s natural resources superintendent.
The heaps of logs caught on the bridge abutments had gotten so large that they made it difficult for canoes and kayaks to get through. Some boaters got stuck, while others overturned when the current carried them into a log.
“To an inexperienced paddler trying to figure out how to get around a logjam like that, there is a drowning hazard,” Smith said. “It is very real.”
After closing the launches from Falls Dam down to Poole Road, the city began looking for logjams along an 18-mile stretch of the river and making plans to clear them. Smith said the city worked with Carolina Coastal Railway to remove debris from its trestle over the river just downstream from New Bern Avenue.
But the New Bern jam is by far the largest. The city has hired a contractor that will park two trucks on the westbound span of the bridge, one with a boom that reaches down with a grapple and saw to cut and move the wood. The other truck will have a bucket to allow the boom operator to see what he’s doing.
The logs will stay in the river
Rather than haul the logs out of the river, the contractor will cut and dislodge them, so they can float downstream, Smith said. It’s easier and doesn’t disturb the river bottom and shoreline, he said. But it also leaves the logs in the river, where they provide shelter for animals and fish, including the endangered Atlantic sturgeon.
“Those pieces of wood are still habitat,” Smith said. “We’d like to keep them in the river, just not as an impediment.”
To make room for the trucks, NCDOT will close the westbound New Bern Avenue bridge at 9 a.m. Sunday and expects to have it open again by 5 p.m. During that time, through traffic will be directed on a detour that uses Interstates 540, 87 and 440 to get back to New Bern Avenue.
The logs and debris accumulated under the bridge over time, with the help of big storms such as hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018. A particularly wet winter last year only made things worse.
Smith said the city has now learned how to respond to logjams and has developed some educational material to help boaters deal with them as well.
“Rivers are dynamic. This will happen again,” he said. “Now we’re in a better position to be able to not have a closure last that long.”
For information about the city’s six boat ramps and when they will reopen, go to raleighnc.gov/river-access.