Planning for the Outer Loop began in the late 1980s, and the first phase of the project opened in 2005.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation's ongoing effort to construct the future Interstate 295, also known as the Fayetteville Outer Loop, has partially opened to traffic. But a total of four other sections remain either under construction, design or development. One of the four sections is being built by Conti Enterprises Inc., which received a $124.5 million contract from NCDOT in 2014 to build the segment from the All American Freeway to Cliffdale Road.
The highway has two lanes in each direction, and Conti's section required the construction of 17 bridges ranging from approximately 150 to 1,600 ft. in length.
On May 2, the North Carolina Board of Transportation officially designated I-295 as the Airborne & Special Operations Highway, as well as dedicating the section of I-295 between I-95 in Cumberland County and Ramsey Street in Fayetteville after Lyndo Tippett, the state's longest-serving transportation secretary (2001-2009). The section at N.C. 87 Bypass in Elizabethtown, not part of the Outer Loop, was named after Mac Campbell, a transportation board member from Bladen County for eight years under former Gov. Mike Easley.
The first two segments of I-295 were opened in 2003 and 2005, and the next section to open was from U.S. 401 Business/Ramsey Street to the All American Freeway. This occurred in three stages between 2014 and 2016 for a total cost of $146 million.
This 6.5-mi. section is another critical link for Fort Bragg to quickly reach I-95. Fort Bragg is the largest U.S. military installation by population, with more than 50,000 active-duty soldiers.
Two other projects are ongoing: the $85.2 million Cliffdale Road to U.S. 401/Raeford Road (3.1 mi.) contract that was awarded to the team of Barnhill Contracting Co., Sanford Construction and HDR Engineering. Construction of the design-build contract began in August 2017 and should be completed in August 2022, as well as the $129.7 million, design-build contract awarded to the Wilmington-based team of Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc., Branch Civil Inc. and STV Engineers Inc. The design was finalized earlier this year, after NCDOT awarded the contract in December 2017. Construction began this spring with an expected completion date of summer 2021.
The segment from U.S. 401/Raeford Road to Camden Road is still in the development stage and is expected to be awarded next summer, with a delivery date of either 2023 or 2024.
The entire 39-mi. Outer Loop route's projected path will take the freeway from I-95 at its current intersection with U.S. 13 to the west and south of Fayetteville before reconnecting with I-95 north of St. Pauls in Robeson County.
"The outer loop will provide unprecedented interstate connectivity for the region and provide Fort Bragg with direct connections to I-95," said NCDOT Public Relations Officer Andrew Barksdale. "It is critical for the region as it will help support the military, promote continued economic growth and strengthen North Carolina's ability to attract and retain business and industry. It will also reduce traffic on portions of the local street network, connect major routes in the south, west and north portions of Fayetteville, and provide an additional crossing of the Cape Fear River."
The Fayetteville metropolitan area has a population of more than 300,000 people. This area includes Hope Mills and Spring Lake as well as Fort Bragg, which contains Pope Army Airfield.
The construction of I-295 aided Fort Bragg in another important way. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, access to the reservation was closed to the public and military officials announced the need to eventually close the portion of Bragg Boulevard that ran through the heart of Fort Bragg between northern Fayetteville and the town of Spring Lake in Cumberland County. The opening of I-295 sections stretching to the All American Freeway, as well as the nearby Bragg Boulevard exit, allowed NCDOT to reroute civilian traffic off the boulevard through the post and onto Murchison Road. Murchison Road was widened from four lanes to six lanes, and two at-grade intersections were replaced with interchanges and overpasses to accommodate the new traffic that was shifted from the boulevard.
Conti is constructing a new 6.5-mi. stretch of interstate highway from Cliffdale Road to the east of the All American Freeway. This work, which began in September 2014, includes grading, paving, soil stabilization, excavation and disposal of regulated material; the construction of 17 bridges and three interchanges; the installation of utilities and traffic control systems; sheeting and piling, formwork, reinforcing steel and concrete; superstructure erection; the construction of retaining walls (four MSE walls) and over 1 mi. of visual barrier walls (three); six sound walls, and the installation of overhead sign structures. The bridges are being erected over wetlands and other roadways.
A major challenge for the prime contractor is Fort Bragg's strict regulations regarding access to the base grounds.
"If you cannot pass a background check, you cannot get on Fort Bragg," said Jason Salisbury, P.E., NCDOT's Division 6 Staff Construction Engineer. "Our contractors knew this would be an issue when hiring subcontractors, but overall they have been able to find the employees that can access the work site on Fort Bragg property."
Planning for the Outer Loop began in the late 1980s, and the first phase of the project — from I-95 to U.S. 401/Ramsey Street — opened in 2005. In August 2014, NCDOT opened a 1.7-mi. section of the Fayetteville Outer Loop from Murchison Road to Bragg Boulevard.
When completed, the Outer Loop will be able to handle 70,000 vehicles on average per-day by the year 2034.
The roadway designer for the Conti section was RS&H; and RK&K designed the access control points (ACP), or gates, at Fort Bragg at Reilly Road and Canopy Lane. Bridge designers included NCDOT, RK&K and HDR of the Carolinas. Conti's section is expected to be completed and open to traffic in mid-September.
"The good news for a project like this," Barksdale said, "is that we won't open a segment until it's completely finished. Therefore, there is no work zone. We don't have to build anything and maintain traffic at the same time. Fort Bragg wanted a way to get from a unit's motor pool straight to the training area and not have to go out and around 295. A bridge was too costly, so we built a large enough tunnel — at a cost of $2 million — for the military vehicles to travel under I-295. This addition was requested by Fort Bragg and Jim Trogdon, NCDOT's secretary of transportation, approved it. This additional work has moved the opening date to this fall."
For the section under construction between I-95 in Robeson County and Camden Road in Cumberland County, NCDOT will be using a conveyor belt system to transfer fill material (dirt mostly) from a borrow site over the existing travel lanes of I-95 to the work site where it is building I-295. The conveyor belt system will be about 130 ft. long and maintain a 20-ft. vertical clearance over I-95.
"We are currently installing steel piles on either side of I-95 near the Robeson-Cumberland county border where the conveyor belt system will operate," Barksdale said. "This system will save time, lessen travel impacts to the public and keep the dump trucks off local roads. About half of the fill material we need for this section of I-295 will be transferred via the conveyer belts. With this system, about 100,000 dump trucks will not have to be on public roadways as the fill material will be hauled with bigger off-road trucks (not impacting traffic)."
Conti Enterprises has completed nearly all of the heavy construction. The remaining work covers placing final surface asphalt throughout the project, some shoulder shaping, various tie-ins and completing the installation of a water line.
"There have been no major construction challenges," Salisbury said. "It's just access in and out of the project — making sure that we're keeping the base secure 100-percent of the time — it's not something we normally deal with."
There were periods when crews were working 24/7, particularly when it was easier to haul dirt to and from the project at night while allowing various crews to do their work during the day. A nearby borrow pit helped with the operations. The work site covered new ground, so very little traffic management was required.
"We're extending a section of the Outer Loop and a lot of access came from it," said Salisbury, who noted that space at times was plentiful and unrestricted. "You have some subcontractors that wanted all their materials on site and some that bring enough materials to perform work for that day or week. Conti did some of both. For the most part, the items for the structures were delivered when needed like girders and concrete. Other items were stockpiled."
Conti and NCDOT had sufficient time to plan the schedule and benchmarks.
"Communication is key any time you're dealing with outside entities beside the DOT and the general contractor," said Justice Blackman, NCDOT's assistant resident Engineer. "We have been able to keep in contact with the base to ensure that everything was flowing smoothly."
Relations between Conti and NCDOT have been good.
"Our management team has been working closely with NCDOT and other stakeholders to incorporate this project into the larger Fayetteville Outer Loop program," said Aaron Bogner, Conti's project manager. "This includes conducting daily and monthly status update meetings. This project and many others under the Outer Loop construction plan are highly public, and we are performing regular community outreach sessions to provide progress updates and address concerns."
The two ACPs were added to the project as it was being let and the work did pose a challenge.
"We normally don't do that type of construction," said Gabe Shoffner, P.E., NCDOT's resident engineer. "It involved the placing of a tremendous amount of underground conduit. Conti didn't construct 100-percent of the ACPs — they built the roads, curb and canopies for them, as well as the overhead lighting."
The two-lane tunnel, about 300 ft. long (14 ft. deep and 14 ft. wide), was constructed by digging a trench and casting-in-place the floor, walls and roof that has since been completely backfilled. The earthwork to prepare the site for the new roads saw the excavation of about two million cu. yds. of earth. This operation began in the fall 2015 and was completed in sections.
"The project required over 150 acres of grubbing," said Salisbury, who pointed out that because the road is on former base property, the Army cleared most of the trees before the grubbing began. "Conti later used GPS systems on its equipment to construct the new road. Initially they were stockpiling the excess suitable and unsuitable material until they secured permission for a waste pit."
The sub-base for the roads is 8 in. thick and the asphalt structure is 10 in. thick. NCDOT is looking for between 10 and 15 years before resurfacing.
"We would be very happy with that," Salisbury said. "We design for large tractor trailers. This is the vehicle that has the most impact that we know of."
With the work area closed off to traffic, crews were able to construct both sides of the highway simultaneously.
"The asphalt was trucked in as the subcontractor had plants that were close enough to haul it in," Salisbury explained. "All the drainage was installed before any of the asphalt was placed."
Several bridges were constructed simultaneously, often ahead of the road work, as access was provided for the bridge crews.
"They varied in length due to the roads and wetlands they were crossing over," Salisbury said. "The bridge construction went well and the crews are just doing minor punch list-type items to bring them to our satisfaction. Initially, Conti would clear access for themselves to some of the bridge sites and the road work would follow later."
The bridges have concrete decks, with some supported by steel girders and others with concrete girders or box beams. The wetlands were protected and crews were required to minimize the impact on them at all times.
"There were plenty of snakes," Salisbury said.
Five of the bridges required the construction of temporary work bridges to provide a platform for personnel and equipment, which had construction start on both ends and meet in the middle. The Army also demolished several buildings and Conti crews completed the job by removing the foundations, slabs, steps and other infrastructure that were below ground or at the surface.
"The clearing and grubbing contractor is used to that kind of work," Salisbury said. "There were some power and communication lines that needed to be relocated. They were supposed to be relocated prior to the contract being awarded, but some of it was not and required coordination between Conti, the Department and the utility owners."
Guardrail, lighting and overhead sign installation is ongoing, as well as some minor grading and the installation of the new water line. Peak days saw more than 100 construction workers in the work zone, including local and regional subcontractors.
The new infrastructure required a considerable amount of materials. The bridges, for example, needed 20,800 linear ft. of concrete beams, four million lbs. of structural steel girders and 71,000 linear ft. of steel bridge piles — including pipe piles and H-piles. This included more than 8,000 cu. yds. of Class A concrete and 1.5 million lbs. of reinforcing steel. The road work has required 38,000 linear ft. of storm drain with over 300 minor drainage structures, 234,000 tons of aggregate sub-base material, 270,000 tons of hot mix asphalt and 26,000 linear ft. of concrete curb and gutter.
Equipment-wise, Conti and its subcontractors are using a variety of cranes, dozers, excavators, loaders, rollers, pavers and other equipment from a range of manufacturers. Repairs are done by a combination of Conti and dealership mechanics. In the Carolinas, Conti purchases and rents equipment from local and regional equipment dealerships. CEG