'Functionally obsolete' bridge in Orange Co. getting guardrails - WRBL

'Functionally obsolete' bridge in Orange Co. getting guardrails

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DURHAM, N.C. -

An Orange County bridge could soon get some upgrades nearly a year after a fatal crash.

Merrill Davis, 34, died Oct. 14, 2012 when his car veered off a steep embankment beside the bridge on N.C. 751, which runs through Duke Forest. Just beforehand, his northbound car crossed the center line and clipped mirrors with a southbound vehicle.

Davis' car burst into flames and it took several days to identify his body through dental records.

According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, the level of alcohol in Davis' system was twice the legal limit.

His mother has pushed for something to be done to prevent other crashes around the 80-year-old bridge.

"Sturdy guardrails might have stopped his descent down the embankment, a more modern bridge might have prevented drivers from edging toward the middle of the road to prepare for the narrow bridge. I'll never know," said his mother, Tamela Davis "What I do know is that the bridge is a very perilous part of heavily traveled 751 through Duke Forest and I will not rest until DOT replaces it."

The N.C. Department of Transportation sent out a crew, as it does in fatal crashes, to see if anything could be done to improve the safety of the bridge.

They decided guardrails leading up to the bridge were the solution, but the challenge was finding a way to install guardrails without making the bridge any more narrow than it already is.

Next month, the Board of Transportation will vote on whether to pay for the project.

If approved, the work could begin in December or January.

According to the NCDOT, the bridge is safe but "functionally obsolete," meaning it was not built to current design standards and will need to be replaced to meet current and future traffic demands.

While the NCDOT intends to replace it, the money will likely not be available for at least 10 years.

The proposed guardrails can be linked to the guardrails on a new bridge if and when it is replaced.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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