The current $404 million I-95 widening project spans the interstate between exits 55 at Murphy Road in Cumberland County and 71 in Harnett County.
(Photo courtesy of NCDOT.)
Interstate 95 stretches 182 mi. across North Carolina, some of it built nearly 70-odd years ago and as can be expected, now significantly outdated. But not for long. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has awarded six contracts for 55 mi. of highway improvement, starting with the sections most badly in need of work. That includes the current $404 million project spanning the interstate between exits 55 at Murphy Road in Cumberland County and 71 in Harnett County, one of the sections with the worst congestion, most crashes and oldest design. The design-build contract was awarded to Flatiron Construction in 2021.
"This section that we're widening and upgrading these bridges on was built in the 1950s," said Andrew Barksdale, NCDOT public relations officer. "This opened in the late 1950s before Eisenhower left office. This is a very old section built under old standards. We don't build interstates like this anymore."
The project is being funded in part by a $147 million federal Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant.
Some of the bridges top out at just 14 ft. high. The new bridges will rise 3 ft. higher at 17 ft. On and off ramps designed in the 1950s connect to country service roads — a design that would not be approved today. But perhaps the biggest improvement drivers will see is the expansion of the interstate from four lanes to eight, plus the addition of 6 in. per lane.
"It's a complete modernization of the highway," Barksdale said. "I-95 is a vital corridor for tourism, industry, military [nearby Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville is the largest military base in United States]. "It should have been widened to six lanes many years ago. The reason we're doing eight instead of six is because we know it is a bit cheaper to do eight now than six now and eight later. Eight lanes will give us plenty of capacity for years to come. We are a growing state and four-lanes is woefully inadequate. This is going to improve traffic flow, add more lanes, which means less congestion and less tailgating and we will have a safer highway."
The state also is building to "resiliency," a move spurred by recent hurricanes.
"Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 were so devastating," Barksdale said. "Flooding shut down parts of I-95 for a week at a time. It just so happens in this section, between mile markers 56 and 81, there is one bridge that flooded during both hurricanes right at the Black River, which goes underneath the Interstate."
To ensure the flooding isn't an issue in the future, the contract calls for the replacement bridge to be built 8 ft. higher than the original bridge to increase the elevation.
"That's an example of building to resiliency," Barksdale said. "We want to make this interstate not only wider and modernized but more resilient against future flooding."
The job comes with the usual highway improvement challenges — namely managing traffic, but due to smart planning and timing, there will be only a minimum of road closures.
"We are maintaining two lanes in each direction for the four years to complete the project," Barksdale said. "We have installed Jersey barriers two feet off the white line, and in most cases, the paved shoulder is gone, except for emergency vehicles. In these projects, we're reconstructing the new section of highway with new lanes. When those are ready, we'll switch traffic from the old lanes to the new, then completely rebuild two new lanes."
Some existing bridges will be closed — one bridge at a time — but because exits are often only a mile apart, the detours are generally short. There will be some nighttime closures for short periods of time, Barksdale said.
Material brought in for the project includes:
- borrow – 780,000 cu. yds.
- unclassified – 503,000 cu. yds.
- ABC – 465,000 TON
Equipment on site includes four excavators, six vibratory rollers, seven dozers and three cranes.
A second widening project is also under way from exit 71 to the I-40 junction at exit 81 in Johnston County. The 9-mi., $236.5 million modernization project awarded to the Fred Smith Co. in July includes replacing six interchanges with new overpasses, loops and ramps that meet modern standards. The section from exit 71 to 8 is set for completion in May 2026.
The project entails:
- replacing two culverts with single-structure bridges to improve the ability of water to safely flow underneath the interstate, which has flooded and closed in recent hurricanes;
- rebuilding Exits 72, 73, 75 and 77 to modern standards that include taller, wider bridges, longer acceleration lanes and realigned service roads;
- retaining the N.C. 50 bridge at Exit 79, but constructing roundabouts at the on/off ramps to improve safety and traffic flow; and
- constructing a new overpass that connects South Market Street with Cub Road on the other side of the interstate. The new overpass, which will not have interstate access, will alleviate congestion, including from commercial trucks, in downtown Benson.
Combined, the two sections will improve 26 mi. of interstate. The first section is scheduled to open to traffic in December 2024; the second, May 2026. CEG
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