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Construction Begins on North Carolina’s First Toll Road

Mon February 22, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

North Carolina’s first toll road, the Western Wake Freeway, will leave those traveling the length of the 12.5-mi. (20.1 km) roadway with an average 20 minutes more free time per trip, according to Jason R. Peterson of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. 

“If progress continues on schedule, the mass of workers commuting from the Apex and Holly Springs areas to Research Triangle Park will be able to take the Western Wake Freeway as an alternative route beginning in summer 2013,” said Peterson, who also is the Triangle Expressway project manager. “The roadway will help complete the I-540 outer loop around Raleigh and Wake County.

The $446 million design-build project got under way in mid-August and is about 15 percent complete, on target for the July 1, 2013, completion date.

The job includes blasting, earthmoving, grading, culverts, bridges, bridge removal, concrete and asphalt paving, greenways, underground conduit network, pavement resurfacing, erosion control and water and sewer,” he said.

According to Peterson, the commuter rush to Durham in the morning and in the opposite direction in the afternoon paved the way for what became the first road construction project undertaken by the Turnpike Authority, created to look at alternative funding sources for transportation projects in the state.

“Under the state’s funding mechanism,” Peterson added, “there wouldn’t be enough money for this stretch for 25 years.”

On the Job

The job contract was awarded to Raleigh-Durham Roadbuilders (RDR), a joint venture of Archer Western Contractors and Granite Construction Company, with Archer Western Contractors as the lead entity, said Dave Moyar, RDR’s senior project manager for the Western Wake Freeway. 

“The project entails construction of 32 bridges at 24 bridge sites, including 10 mainline bridges [five northbound and five southbound] over wetlands and four bridges [two northbound and two southbound] over major interchanges at U.S. 64 and U.S. 1,” Moyar said. 

“Raleigh-Durham Roadbuilders will purchase about 85 pieces of heavy equipment for the job,” he continued. “Roughly 40 percent will be purchased new and about 60 percent will be used equipment brought in from the two joint venture parties’ stables.”

Most of the heavy equipment will be Caterpillars, Moyar stated, including 320- to 336-size excavators, D3- to D6-size dozers, and 938 and 950 wheel loaders. There also will be a total of 11 cranes: two 2009 Manitowoc 14000, three 2010 Link-Belt 218HSL, two Link-Belt RTC 8065, one Manitowoc 555, and three Grove RT750E. All the rubber-tire cranes and the Manitowoc 555 were purchased from the two joint venture parties.

The new equipment was sourced through Gregory Poole Equipment Company for the Caterpillar equipment; RW Moore Equipment Company for the John Deere equipment; Atlantic & Southern Equipment LLC for the Link-Belt equipment; and Walter Payton Power Equipment LLC for the Manitowoc equipment, Moyar said.  

“For the moment, service is great,” he said. “There are a lot of local businesses excited to see a large project in the area, and they are all eager for business.” 

Moyar said more than 300 workers are expected to be on the job at its peak. “Based on our current schedule, we do not anticipate working shifts,” he said.

Subcontractors on the project include Eutaw Construction Company, mass excavation and grading; Clear-Con LLC, clearing (more than 500 acres); and Rea Contracting; a division of The Lane Construction Corporation, asphalt.

“Because the project is design-build, only a small number of subcontractors are under contract as of now,” he said. “The remaining subcontractors will be added as work progresses.” 

The job is expected to entail 6 million cu. yds. (4.6 million cu m) of earthwork, 75,000 linear ft. (22,860 m) of reinforced concrete pipe, 900,000 sq. yds. (752,514 sq m) of concrete paving, 450,000 tons (408,233 t) of  asphalt (base and ramps), 70,000 cu. yds. (53,518 cu m) of concrete (off-site supplier) and 375,000 cu. yds. (286,708 cu m) of concrete (on-site batch plant).

“We will be using an Erie Strayer concrete batch plant with a GOMACO fleet of pavers,” said Moyar. “On the roster are an RTP-500 placer, 2600 spreader, 2800 and Commander III pavers with dowel bar inserters and a TC-600 tine/cure machine.”

Prehistoric Rock

“They’re done clearing and have started earthwork on a very small portion of the job site, only about 25 of roughly 500 acres,” Moyar said. “The wet weather that the area has been experiencing is not conducive to working with the Triassic rock on site. A sandstone formation formed during the Triassic period, the material is claylike. When it gets wet, it takes a lot of time to dry. We picked the worse time of the year to try to get started.”

“There is a stretch of the Triassic material just west of Raleigh,” added Peterson, noting that the team did a lot of boring upfront and knew what they were dealing with. “The project involves large cuts in the Triassic material, which require blasting to break up the material into smaller pieces for movement and grading. You’ve got to blast it in the ground to break it up, but then you have to be careful what you do with it,” said Peterson, explaining that while very hard while in the ground, the material breaks up once it is exposed to the elements.

“It’s definitely a usable material,” he said. “You just have to get it in place and cap it, keep it as dry as you can.”

Making the Grade

According to Peterson, the crew expects grading to begin this month.  

“They have already started working on erosion control measures, which will include installing silting basins, sediment basins, settling ponds and diversion ditches, as well as skimmer basins, which feature a skimmer device that siphons the water off the surface,” Moyar explained. “N.C. takes erosion control seriously,” he said. “A large quantity of work goes into putting erosion control in place.” 

“The Western Wake Freeway is a greenfield project, with the majority of the work on a new location away from existing roads and traffic, so it shouldn’t be a major disruption in terms of traffic,” Peterson said. “We anticipate minor delays and temporary detours for existing roadways that these projects will cross.”

“Still, the project entails multiple challenges, including coordination with municipalities, acquisition of right of way from multiple property owners, relocation of utilities and design issues. At this point, none have delayed progress or added additional cost. While it isn’t passing through an area of high population density, the project does go through a residential area with a large amount of property owners and will force some residents to relocate,” Peterson said.

Relocation Rules

Peterson went on to explain that in North Carolina, they follow the Federal Highway Administration’s Uniform Act of 1972, which calls for an appraiser to determine the property’s value before the road is built as well as afterward. The Turnpike Authority is then required to offer the difference between the two values, which becomes the starting point of negotiations.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the Turnpike Authority starts the condemnation process, which allows the resident access to the starting figure while the Turnpike Authority moves ahead with the project and the case is reviewed.

“As with any project the Turnpike Authority undertakes, the Western Wake Freeway had to be supported by all of the area municipalities as well as shown by a study to be viable as a toll road,” Peterson said.

In December 2005, the mayors of five southern and western Wake County towns asked the North Carolina Turnpike Authority to evaluate the feasibility of constructing the I-540 Western Wake as a toll road, according to a chronology of the project on

In February 2006, the Turnpike Authority initiated a traffic and revenue study to evaluate the financial feasibility of tolling I-540 Western and Southern Wake from N.C. 55 at Morrisville to I-40 south of Garner, the NCDOT chronology showed.

“The project is fully funded by municipal bonds,” Peterson said, “and once the bonds are paid back — which is estimated to be a little over 30 years — the toll will come off the road. There won’t be any actual toll booths on the road. Instead, it will be 100 percent electronically tolled. Commuters will be able to buy a transponder that will deduct discounted tolls from their accounts as they drive under a tolling device. And those without transponders will have a photo taken of their license plate, which will be tracked through Department of Motor Vehicle records to bill the vehicle’s owner by mail. While the new road’s tolls have not yet been determined, tolls on this type of roadway are running roughly 15 to 20 cents per mile,” he said. 

Awarding the Contract

“Raleigh-Durham Roadbuilders wasn’t chosen on a low-bid basis,” Peterson said.

Because of the design-build nature of the project, the Turnpike Authority short listed three design-build teams based on their submissions of qualifications and then selected the best “overall value” based on both a price proposal and a technical proposal, including a presentation, Peterson explained. “Being a design-build project allows flexibility. And this selection process encourages interested companies to come up with ideas to do things in a better way, basically rewards them for being innovative,” Peterson said.

“For example, a technical proposal that calls for the job to be finished two months earlier than competitors would be valuable for a toll road project, as it would allow tolls to start being collected two months sooner. Likewise, a proposal calling for flip-flopping the order of building interchanges so that dirt from the first one can be used on the second would also add value in the selection process,” continued Peterson.

“There is an opportunity to come up with some new ideas; that’s what we’re looking for. However, when it comes down to it, the price score is given more weight than the technical score, he concluded.  

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