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Major Interstate Junction in N.C. Undergoes $89M Facelift

The point where the two major highways intersect is finally getting a much-needed facelift.

Mon April 14, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

When the interchange of Interstate 40 and Interstate 77 in Statesville, N.C., was constructed in the late 1960s, traffic projections through the junction were set at about 5,000 cars and trucks per day.

At that time, the Statesville area was a sleepy little town 40 mi. north of Charlotte, N.C., with little activity between the two towns.

But, just south of Statesville, along I-77, the manmade Lake Norman reservoir area began to be developed in the 1970s and 1980s, which brought an increasing amount of cars and trucks through the region. Homes and businesses started popping up all over the lake’s more than 520 mi. of shoreline. By the 1990s, Lake Norman became a major, 50 sq. mi. bedroom community for Charlotte

As a result, by 2012, approximately 70,000 vehicles began traveling through the I-40/I-77 crossroads on a typical weekday.

It seemed that a major renovation of the intersection was badly needed.

"Really, this project is being done simply because the traffic is a lot heavier now than when it was built and it will only get heavier," said John Cook, district 2 engineer for the North Carolina DOT. "All of our calculations project that traffic to grow to more than 110,000 vehicles per day by 2035."

Two Major U.S. Highways

The interchange of the two interstate highways in west-central North Carolina is a busy and vital hub through this part of the state. Interstate 77 brings traffic almost due south from a starting point in Cleveland, Ohio, and runs through the Tarheel State as far as Columbia in central South Carolina. The east-west running I-40 is much longer, stretching from Wilmington on the North Carolina coast more than 2,500 mi. west to Barstow, Calif.

Interstate 77 is heavily traveled in the summer as tourists from the Midwest use the highway to reach the Carolina coasts. It also carries commuters from the Lake Norman residential areas to and from Charlotte each day, as well as to residential areas south of the city.

As I-40 links North Carolina’s Atlantic coast with the Blue Ridge Mountains, Tarheel residents have made that interstate the road they use most to move east and west across the state.

Work Finally Starts

So, after years of talking and planning, the point where the two major highways intersect is finally getting a much-needed facelift, one that has been budgeted at just over $89 million. Zachry Construction Co., based in San Antonio, Texas, is the project’s managing contractor.

Before Zachry could begin work in the summer of 2012, NCDOT planners had to figure out the best way to rehabilitate the interchange, while at the same time incorporating that work with Statesville’s nearby retail and hospitality corridors.

Just a short distance west of the intersection, is the greatly congested Sullivan Road/U.S. Highway 21 corridor — one full of restaurants, hotels and big box stores connected by four narrow lanes. The area has long been notorious for its heavy traffic and, can be a nightmare to navigate at rush hour.

With that in mind, crews are working to reconstruct U.S. 21 from just north of I-40 to a point south of the interstate that will allow for better traffic flow on U.S. 21, as well as to and from I-40, while also alleviating some of the traffic tie-ups.

That will include a diverging diamond interchange at I-40 and U.S. 21. A temporary on-ramp has already been opened at the site to bring drivers onto I-40 east while construction on a new lane of I-40 commences.

In addition, new lanes of I-40 West are being built though the corridor to help move traffic faster and more efficiently. The number of lanes on I-40 will increase from four to six from Center Street/N.C. Highway 115 east to Old Mocksville Road, a distance of approximately 2 mi.

Closer to the I-40/I-77 interchange itself will be new on and off ramps, as well as new bridges and overpasses.

In addition, the interchange that existed at I-40 and Old U.S. Highway 64, located just east of I-40/I-77 junction, has been closed.

Noise and retaining walls are being erected at several points along I-40 and at one point along I-77 as both roads border several residential areas of Statesville.

Lane closures on the interstates, as well as on U.S. 21, U.S. 64 (Davie Avenue) and Glenway Drive, which runs just north of I-40, are commonplace every day of the week.

Weather Has Been

the Only Problem

The construction has caused traffic in the area to slow, but Cook said that few problems have been encountered so far. The only real difficulties have come from the weather, he said, including a recent 10-in. snowfall, quite rare for this area, that only caused work to stop for a few days, Cook said.

"Overall, we’re very pleased with the progress of the work so far," Cook said. "The weather played a major role in 2013 as the year was unusually wet and rainy. That just means you have to work when you can. We are a little behind, but as far as the overall completion date of September 2016 is concerned, we are still on schedule.

"I think that Zachry and their subcontractors have done an exceptional job to get the work where we are at the moment," Cook said.

A lot of earthmoving is going on at the work site, which is spread out over several miles, as well as bridge work, retaining wall erection and roadway surfacing.

A pair of 150-ton (136 t), Link-Belt 238 lattice crawler cranes are currently at work putting up the girders on a pair of bridges. Moving all around the cranes is a variety of Caterpillar earthmoving machines both large and small, and when night work is needed, crews work in brilliant illumination supplied by several Doosan Portable Power light towers.

The bottom line is that by this time in 2017, traffic in and around the I-40/I-77 interchange should once again be moving at a fast and efficient rate.

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