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Charlotte's Hawthorne Bridge Reopens After Years Of Construction And Delays

Hawthorne Lane bridge
David Boraks
This 2019 photo shows construction on Hawthorne Lane bridge halted when wrong-sized girders were used.

The rebuilt Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard in Charlotte has reopened to vehicles after three and a half years of construction and contractor delays. That means testing can begin next month on Charlotte Area Transit System's Gold Line streetcar extension.

The bridge over Independence Boulevard closed in July 2017 so workers could rebuild the span and install the streetcar tracks.

It's a key link in the 2.5-mile Lynx Gold Line expansion project. The Gold Line, which remains closed, previously ran from the Transportation Center in uptown along East Trade Street and Elizabeth Avenue to Hawthorne Lane and Fifth Street. Extensions at either end will take it west to Johnson C. Smith University on Beatties Ford Road and east across Independence to Sunnyside Avenue.

The Gold Line phase 2 project adds stops west of uptown and east of the current terminus at Hawthorne Avenue and Fifth Street.
The Gold Line phase 2 project adds stops west of uptown and east of the current terminus at Hawthorne Avenue and Fifth Street.

That eastern extension has been lots of trouble for CATS. Construction delays have included wrong-sized girders and concrete that was poured improperly. COVID-19 cases slowed work over the summer as well.

In a June presentation, CATS officials publicly blamed the contractor, Johnson Brothers, for poor quality work. CATS said the company is "ineffective in project management, rail installation and bridge construction resulting in poor budgeting, scheduling, construction, and/or quality."

CATS has said that Johnson Brothers has struggled to meet its own deadlines throughout the project.

Johnson Brothers has declined to comment on CATS' concerns.

The bridge was supposed to reopen in March 2020. That was pushed to fall and then again to December. Business owners in the area say having Hawthorne Lane closed has slowed their business.

The delays have led to some tense moments at Charlotte City Council meetings, including one in August where council member Ed Driggs compared the project to the sinking of the Titanic. Council member Larken Egleston told CATS CEO John Lewis that “We've got to do a better job of holding the people we hire, that we contract, that we hire to do work for us, accountable. The level of incompetence on this project is breathtaking.”

The bridge finally reopened to pedestrians and bicycles in mid-August.

CATS says work on the Gold Line will continue and could include sidewalk and lane closures on the bridge as workers install lighting, handrails, and pavement markings.

Gold Line streetcars will begin testing on the line in January. CATS says the entire project is supposed to be done in early 2021.

Future plans call for extending the Gold Line west along Beatties Ford Road to Interstate 85 and east along Central Avenue to the former Eastland Mall area.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.