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Amid Challenges, N.C Freeway Interchange Remains on Schedule

Thu February 18, 2021 - Southeast Edition #4
Eric Olson - CEG CONTRIBUTING EDITOR


More supports are being constructed for the flyover portion of the partial turbine interchange supports for I-40 WB to I-77 SB.
(Lane Construction photo)
More supports are being constructed for the flyover portion of the partial turbine interchange supports for I-40 WB to I-77 SB. (Lane Construction photo)
More supports are being constructed for the flyover portion of the partial turbine interchange supports for I-40 WB to I-77 SB.
(Lane Construction photo) Supports go up for the new ramp bridges at the beginning of the partial turbine interchange that connects I-40 westbound to I-77 southbound.
(Lane Construction photo) Under construction to improve the system connection is a partial turbine interchange at the site, which utilizes a 2,289-ft.-long flyover ramp that allows westbound I-40 motorists to easily exit onto I-77 southbound toward Charlotte.
(Lane Construction photo) Looking west along I-40 WB as Lane crews are building a new bridge for a widened I-77 NB in the foreground.
(Lane Construction photo) Looking south down I-77 with the partial turbine interchange construction going on from the left bottom around to the right and looping back along the right edge of the photo. You can make out the flyover supports toward the upper right corner.
(Lane Construction photo) Since the fall, Lane’s crews also have built noise walls; bridges; installed both asphalt paving, cement treated base; and Portland Cement Concrete paving, as well as continued its efforts to construct the I-40 eastbound collector distributor lanes and the westbound I-40 lanes.
(Lane Construction photo) Eight bridges are either being replaced or widened, while another six are completely new spans. In total, the 14 structures and flyover encompass 5,702 ft. of steel and concrete.
(Lane Construction photo) Paving equipment on the job includes: a GOMACO TC600 PCCP cure machine; a Guntert & Zimmerman (G&Z) S600 12-in. PCCP paver and a G&Z S850 24-in. PCCP paver; a GOMACO RTP-500 PCCP placer.

It is now been almost nine years since contractors first began to transform the interchange at I-40 and I-77 in Statesville, N.C., 40 mi. north of Charlotte.

With only an expected year-and-a-half left before the two-phased freeway project is finished, crews from two different construction companies have made quite a few upgrades to each interstate as well as several streets and roads feeding to them and the interchange.

During the initial five years of work by Zachry Construction of San Antonio, Texas, improvements on the two roadways included replacing bridges; building entirely new bridges; a diverging-diamond interchange; constructing ramps; parallel roads; noise walls; replacing box culverts; and installing a fly-under, or a collector/distributor road for I-40 westbound.

When that $89 million first phase of the I-40/I-77 Interchange was completed in 2017, local drivers and thru-travelers were given a short respite from road building until May 2019 when Connecticut-based Lane Construction, a national heavy construction contractor, started its work to finish the job by June 2022.

Time for an Interchange Upgrade

When the original intersection of I-40 and I-77 was built in the late 1960s, traffic projections through the junction were projected to be about 5,000 cars and trucks per day in 1970. Since that time, though, Statesville itself has many more residents, but the area south of town around Lake Norman and the suburbs north of Charlotte, as well as the Queen City itself, has seen a tremendous growth spurt.

Another incentive for the state to improve the interchange became apparent in the mid-2000s when a series of accidents sparked closer scrutiny of the junction.

"Safety is always one of our main concerns," said Marcus Thompson, communications officer of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). "Our hope is that these improvements to the interchange will enhance safety and make travel easier for everyone in this area."

So, with all that traffic, the subsequent 50-year wear and tear on the interchange and concerns over vehicle safety concerns, NCDOT engineers made clear to its prime contractors that significant improvements had to be made at the junction.

"The existing I-40 and I-77 intersection has simply outlived its original purpose," explained Casey Hurley, Lane Construction's project manager in Statesville. "The work we are doing now will improve congestion and safety for the traveling public. The current average daily traffic is 70,000 vehicles and is expected to increase to 110,000 by 2035."

Elegant Partial Turbine Design Utilized

Lane was selected by the NCDOT for the design-build contract to widen both the interstate highways for a total of 7.6 mi. Under construction to improve the system connection is a partial turbine interchange at the site, which utilizes a 2,289-ft.-long flyover ramp that allows westbound I-40 motorists to easily exit onto I-77 southbound toward Charlotte.

A partial turbine design makes interchanges such as this one easier to maneuver for motorists and doesn't disrupt traffic. To convey cars and trucks safely through the crossing, Lane also has been installing high-capacity, high-speed ramps.

"Before the first phase of the project, the I-40/I-77 interchange consisted of a clover-leaf design," Hurley said. "The contractor on that part of the project removed and upgraded the existing northeast quadrant with a partial-turbine, which carried I-77 northbound traffic to I-40 westbound. Under our contract, Lane will further upgrade the partial-turbine interchange, eliminating both the existing north-west and south-east quadrants. In addition, the existing south-west portion will be re-aligned."

He said that utilizing the modified turbine interchange design at I-40 and I-77 provides several benefits, including a reduction in wetland impacts, eliminating the need for third-level structures, and the use of concrete girder bridges can be optimized. Further, the design accelerates the schedule, decreases short-term construction and long-term maintenance costs, and minimizes impacts to traffic during construction.

Lane Construction's Tasks Are Many

Along north-south I-77, the contractor is:

  • widening the freeway for 3.6 mi. and building a median barrier;
  • making an interchange modification at Broad Street, which leads into downtown Statesville;
  • building new dual bridges over I-40;
  • installing new bridge structures over Fourth Creek, U.S. 64 and Broad Street over I-77; and
  • erecting a pair of new ramp bridges over I-77 at the turbine interchange.

Lane also has crews working on east-west I-40 to:

  • perform 4 mi. of widening with a median barrier to separate traffic;
  • complete a bridge widening on the interstate;
  • build a new bridge on I-40 over a Fourth Creek tributary; and
  • demolish existing bridges on the freeway over a closed ramp from U.S. 64.

These facts, too, bear out the amount of work Lane has been performing for almost three years:

  • Improved access onto the interstates for four other roads: Broad Street, U.S. 64, Simonton Road and Victory Lane.
  • Eight bridges are either being replaced or widened, while another six are completely new spans. In total, the 14 structures and flyover encompass 5,702 ft. of steel and concrete.
  • The road project is bordered by six mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining walls; another six composed of soil nail; four that are a combination of MSE and soil nail; and one sheet pile wall.
  • Eight ramps and loop improvements are being built or replaced to connect both interstates from all four directions.
  • The embankments are reinforced with high-strength geotextile fabric.

"Our creative construction work strategy and maintenance of traffic plans minimize the number of phased bridges and incorporates Smart Work Zone technology to enhance safety and utilize an on-site concrete batch plant to mitigate third-party delay," Hurley assured. "Lane's ability to self-perform 70 percent of the work, including concrete paving; bridge construction; and grading and storm drainage, enhances our schedule control and overall quality."

He also pointed out that the open graded friction course (OGFC) on the I-77 pavement structure will improve surface drainage by deterring the hydroplaning of cars and trucks. The design-build team considered alternative designs, materials and construction methodology to reduce long-term maintenance costs, he said.

Heavy Work Performed Despite Heavy Rain

While few other things were able to continue as planned last year, the Statesville project managed to move forward, according to Matthew Evans, the resident engineer of NCDOT.

"The pandemic hasn't really affected our ability to stay on schedule," Evans explained, although he did add that an over-abundance of rainfall in 2020 did present a few challenges.

On average, the city of Statesville receives around 45 in. of rain per year, but the past 12 months saw more than 60 in. fall, including multiple flooding events.

In 2020, even with the pandemic and often wet conditions, Lane managed to put a considerable amount of the interchange project together. That work included project-wide clearing and grubbing; installing temporary median widening to allow outside reconstruction; utility relocations; and wet utility construction.

The large embankments within the interchange, Hurley explained, were atop damp, marginal soils, which required the use of high-strength geotextile stabilization efforts.

Up to October 2020, heavy equipment also helped perform:

  • 250,000 cu. yds. of earthwork, including the geotextile enhancement;
  • 9,000 linear ft. of storm drainage;
  • 46,000 tons of 12-in. Type 1 aggregate subgrade;
  • 35,000 tons of asphalt;
  • construction on 11 bridge sites; and building both soil nail and MSE retaining walls.

Since the fall, Lane's crews also have built noise walls; bridges; installed both asphalt paving, cement treated base; and Portland Cement Concrete paving, as well as continued its efforts to construct the I-40 eastbound collector distributor lanes and the westbound I-40 lanes.

As the new year began, Evans said the various components of the interchange upgrades put the project at 37 percent completion overall.

Subcontractors Among Region's Best

Lane Construction has not, of course, been building this new freeway interchange by itself. Rather, it has gathered some of the finest building specialists from across the South to apply their skills to the project.

Among the key subcontractors are:

  • Maymead Inc., asphalt paving specialists from Statesville;
  • Blount-Sanford Contracting Company Inc., a Lilburn, Ga., company that erects permanent barrier wall structures;
  • Wagman Heavy Civil Inc., based in Petersburg, Va., to perform the shaft drilling;
  • UMA, Geotechnical Construction Inc., responsible for the needed soil nail retaining walls, is from Colfax, N.C.;
  • Bonn-J Contracting Inc., in charge of MSE walls and temporary wire walls, is based in Seminole County, Fla.; and
  • RE Burns & Sons Co. Inc. of Statesville, builds the project's sound walls and box-culverts.

Hurley projects 2021 as the busiest time at the Statesville work site. At its peak, he expects Lane to have 25 to 30 crews at work, with another 23 to 28 from among the subcontractors.

Top-Shelf Dealers, Equipment

When asked about the equipment employed on the I-40/I-77 enterprise, Hurley said that the machines used were a combination of owned and rental pieces. Among the area companies that leased heavy equipment to Lane and its subs were Rockingham-based Superior Cranes; Carolina Cat in Charlotte; Sunbelt Rentals, with locations in Mooresville and Charlotte; United Rentals, with a Mooresville office; James River, which maintains construction equipment showrooms in Statesville and Charlotte; and Ultimate Equipment Rentals of Mooresville.

The number and range of equipment on site in Statesville is impressive, most of which are in Lane's possession.

  • Excavators include: Cat 330F, 336FL and 308E2 machines; a Case CS 245DLC; a John Deere 350G and a 220D; and a Hitachi 245LC-6.
  • Dozers include: a John Deere 700K LGP; Cat D5K2 LGP, D6K2 LGP and D6T.
  • Rollers include: a Cat model CS56 and 815K; a Hamm H 10ip roller; and a Bomag BW 211 PD-5.
  • Motor graders include: a Cat 140 AWD; a John Deere 672 GP; and a NorAm 65ET turbo.
  • Loaders include: a Case 621G; Cat 938M QC and 299D; a Volvo L180H; a John Deere 524K; and a New Holland TS6125.
  • Cranes include: Link-Belt 218HSL, 298 and 348 crawler cranes and a rough terrain RTC-8065 II.
  • Paving equipment includes: a GOMACO TC600 PCCP cure machine; a Guntert & Zimmerman (G&Z) S600 12-in. PCCP paver and a G&Z S850 24-in. PCCP paver; a GOMACO RTP-500 PCCP placer.

A variety of other equipment pieces and attachments also have proven handy, among which are a Volvo A40G off-road truck; a Cat 613C paddle pan; a John Deere 410J backhoe; a Delmag D22/30-23 pile hammer; an ICE 416 vibratory hammer; a Cat TL1055C telehandler; a JLG 660 manlift; and a Mait HR 260 CP drill rig.

Phase 2 Once Averted Cancellation

And to think that after NCDOT experts had identified the need for the massive I-40/I-77 interchange's upgrade prior to building Phase 1, the effort to bring Phase 2 on line was almost cancelled in 2014 after it fell below the threshold in the state's new prioritization system.

Luckily for motorists, however, the road/bridge project was finally recognized as one that would fulfill a critical need, leading the state to allow work to resume on the important enterprise in 2019. CEG




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