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Bridge Work Over I-85 Detours Vital Link in N.C.

Motorists traveling east on U.S. Highway 64 from west of Lexington, N.C., will have to endure an out-of-the-way detour a few months longer due to a new bridge project that is delayed.

Tue February 04, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

Motorists traveling east on U.S. Highway 64 from west of Lexington, N.C., will have to endure an out-of-the-way detour a few months longer due to a new bridge project that is delayed.

Two lanes of the highway’s route through Lexington have been disrupted since January when road crews began preparing to demolish an old, narrow overpass that carries east-bound traffic over the Interstate 85 business loop or, as it is known locally, Business 85. (West-bound traffic doesn’t use the bridge, but shares Business 85 South before exiting onto U.S. 64 just a few hundred feet west of the new span).

The U.S. 64 bridge was taken down in March, a move which detoured U.S. 64 East a few miles south on Business 85. Traffic was routed onto the West 5th Avenue exit, back east across Business 85 and then north onto National Boulevard and eventually onto Business 85 North. After a short drive, motorists can continue eastward onto U.S. 64 toward Asheboro and Raleigh, N.C.

Although the detour doesn’t sound disruptive, it has adversely affected customer traffic to businesses along the corridor, as well as out-of-town drivers confused by the interruption.

A Small, But Vital, Project

Initially, the North Carolina DOT expected to have the $5.9 million project finished in November, but due to weather delays and trouble replacing a drainage pipe under Business 85, the new completion date is now set for sometime in May.

According to Dale Swicegood, a resident engineer overseeing the project for the DOT, the bridge, erected in the 1950s, needed to be replaced.

“When the state does its bridge ratings every so often and a bridge gets a grade of 50 or less, its gets put on a list to replace and that was the case with this one,” said Swicegood. “Since this one was so old, it was in dire need of some maintenance work. Plus, the new bridge will be a little bit higher and have a little bit more clearance.

“There was not a severe problem with the old structure; it was just time for it to be replaced.”

He said that a lot of older roads, especially those that are not primary interstate routes, have clearances that are a bit lower than what today’s new bridges offer.

“So every truck load that you see that may be a legal load can’t go down every road,” said Swicegood. “When we replace a bridge, we try to plan for that. Ideally, you would like for every bridge or overpass to have a 14- to 15-foot clearance, but there are a lot of them on Business 85 that don’t have that.”

This particular section of Business 85, which served as Interstate 85 from when it was built in the 1960s until 1984, when the main interstate itself was built around Lexington’s east side, will most likely see several more old bridges and overpasses replaced in the coming years, according to Swicegood.

A Wider and Safer Bridge

The Raleigh office of D.H. Griffin Construction serves as the primary contractor on the new U.S. 64 bridge. Working with the NCDOT, the company is erecting an overpass that is 44 ft. (13.4 m) wide inside the roadway and more than 14 ft. (4.3 ft) wider than the old span. The bridge brings traffic over four lanes of Business 85 with a narrow median.

The new bridge will accommodate three lanes of traffic on its road deck including a short turn lane onto Business 85 north. That is part of the reason for the extra width, Swicegood said, and it gives drivers an extra foot or so of shoulder.

“The new bridge will have safer rails, as well as safer approaches to it with guardrails,” Swicegood said. “We are straightening the alignment of this bridge as compared to the old one, which was actually more of a curved structure than the new one, so it should be safer all around.”

Griffin’s crews progressed to the point, in mid-September, where they used a Manitowoc 777 lattice boom crawler crane to set the girders for the bridge over the north-bound lanes of Business 85. The work was done at night, when traffic was lightest, over a three-day period.

The girders spanning south-bound Business 85 were set beginning Nov. 4, according to Swicegood.

Problems, Problems

Swicegood admitted that the bridge project’s timetable was “fairly tight” to begin, but because central North Carolina, like a lot of areas in the Southeast, was hit by a lot of rain last summer, work on the bridge often ground to a halt.

But then a new problem cropped up at the job site that was completely unforeseen.

One of D.H. Griffin’s subcontractors was in charge of installing a new drainage pipe that ran underneath Business 85, as well as an off ramp and a short service road, all adjacent to the bridge-work. During the installation, the pipe got stuck and wouldn’t advance any farther.

“To run that new pipe, it had to be bored and jacked in order to install it,” Swicegood said. “And it is a big, 85-inch diameter pipe. Because the pipe was stuck, it is only about one-third of the way done [as of Oct.]. Now they are going in there and actually hand digging the remaining portion of it and installing plate pipe in its place and just doing it piecemeal.”

In addition, Swicegood said that crews also ran into problems running a sewer line through the work site. In this case, workers hit a lot of rock when installing the new line.

The sewer line has now been completed, the problems just slowed down the entire process.

“It actually delayed some of the bridge work itself,” Swicegood said. “The existing sewer line was going to be hit by one of the piles that we had to drive for the bridge. So there was a lot of little stuff going on in a small area. For everything to work on the timetable they have, it all has to come together just right and unfortunately it hasn’t.”

Business 85 traffic has not been disrupted that much during the bridge project, despite the problems. At most, traffic was detoured around the bridge during the placing of the girders or only one lane would be closed each way during the pipe installations.

Besides the Manitowoc 777 crane, other equipment on site include a Manitowoc 222 located at the point where the bridge’s concrete forms are set, and an assortment of John Deere and Hitachi bulldozers and excavators, as well as Sakai rollers.

D.H. Griffin rents these pieces from either Neff Rental or James River Equipment, both with locations in North Carolina and Virginia.

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