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New N.C. Mobility Fund Kickstarts I-85 Project

Wed April 18, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson


A Link-Belt LS 138H II lattice boom crawler crane, owned by Balfour-Beatty, over the new girders at the site of new Belmont Road overpass on I-85. This crane placed the girders.
A Link-Belt LS 138H II lattice boom crawler crane, owned by Balfour-Beatty, over the new girders at the site of new Belmont Road overpass on I-85. This crane placed the girders.
A Link-Belt LS 138H II lattice boom crawler crane, owned by Balfour-Beatty, over the new girders at the site of new Belmont Road overpass on I-85. This crane placed the girders. The approach of traffic heading north on I-85 toward the reconfigure of the Belmont Road interchange. The newly paved concrete roadway on I-85 at the N.C. 150 interchange, looking north. Looking west over the new girders that will form the bridge at Belmont Road over I-85. That is a Grove RT 700E rough terrain crane in the center right background and the Link-Belt crane on the left. The crane is lifting the fourth of nine concrete girders high in the air to place it on the portion of the new Belmont Road bridge over I-85 North in Davidson County.

Tarheel State transportation officials have had their eye on widening the busy I-85 corridor through southern Davidson County in the central part of the state for decades. The hang-up, as always, was money, as well as completing other high-priority projects.

But with the creation of the North Carolina Mobility Fund in 2010, the state’s DOT finally found a way to pay for the needed renovation of I-85 and get the project moving forward.

Now, as part of a larger I-85 improvement plan, work is progressing on expanding the roadway from four to eight lanes just north of the Yadkin River in a project costing $65.5 million.

This second phase of the I-85 Corridor Improvement Project, which the state has described as its “number one mobility project,” also includes the reconstruction of the interchange at I-85 and Belmont Road.

Thanks to Gov. Bev Perdue and the state’s General Assembly, this very phase of the improvement project was chosen as the first venture to be funded by the Mobility Fund. The governor herself proposed the creation of the fund as a way to channel new dollars to important road projects throughout North Carolina.

With money in hand, the state then contracted with Balfour Beatty Infrastructure Inc. and Austin Bridge and Road LP, two companies that have formed a joint venture to execute the contract, to begin the work last May.

This phase of the venture is going on at the same time as crews from Flatiron-Lane are working just to the southwest to complete the massive first phase of the project, which includes the construction of a new $136 million bridge over the Yadkin.

If all continues to go well with the second phase of the work, which stretches for 3.8 mi. (6 km) from the Belmont Road interchange southwest to a point just north of the interchange at N.C. Highway 150, the DOT hopes to have this part of the plan finished by May 2013

That reconstruction took a big step in the last few weeks with the placement of girders for the new overpass, according to Dale Swicegood, a resident engineer with the DOT.

“This section of the interstate, along with the section over the river, are the last two segments, until you get back down toward Charlotte, that have yet to be widened from two lanes,” he said, adding that as many as 70,000 cars and trucks pass through the work zone each day. “By expanding those lanes from two to four in each direction at this point on the interstate, we are really just bringing it up to current standards.”

When completed next year, I-85 will be made up of at least six lanes from the Triangle in the north through Charlotte in the south — which just happens to be the most heavily traveled portion of the road in North Carolina. State officials hope that these improvements also will help stimulate economic development and commerce in the area.

At the job site itself, most of the work is centered on the reconfiguring of the interchange at Belmont Road. Crews are busy changing the old diamond intersection with ramps up and down each side into a half-cloverleaf with a ramp and loop on the south side of Belmont Road.

In addition, the new 200-ft.-long (61 m), four-lane bridge carrying Belmont Road over the interstate is being built about 100 ft. (30 m) south of the current two-lane structure. All of this work is going on while two lanes of traffic continue to flow by on I-85.

“The biggest worry that we have had so far is working on the bridge at Belmont Road,” Swicegood explained. “That’s because we are working in the median of I-85 and because the median is fairly narrow, we can’t pour concrete or do much of anything from there unless we close the inside lanes. But we can only do that during the week when we close those lanes from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.”

Although as many as 60 people can be found at the job site each day, depending on the work scheduled to occur on a particular day, Swicegood said the project is slightly behind due to lots of wet weather last fall and other relatively minor problems.

With the weather getting warmer, it will be easier, he said, for crews to pour concrete and pave new lanes. Now that the fairly mild winter is almost over, he believes they will make up ground in the spring and get the project back on schedule.

As the resident engineer on the project, Swicegood acts as the state’s head administrator of the contract. With Phase II of the I-85 improvement being a design-build project, the contractors’ designs are all run by the DOT’s designers in Raleigh for review, but the day-to-day operations are actually checked and verified by Swicegood and his staff of two assistant engineers. Additionally, he has 11 inspectors doing quality control and quality assurance testing on concrete and asphalt at the job site.

Austin Road and Bridge has taken the lead in managing the private contractors working on the project and is doing some of the structure work at the interchange, as well as all of the concrete paving.

Swicegood said that there is about 1 million yds. (764,555 cu m) of material involved with this development, keeping an array of graders and dozers busy each day.

“The majority of the borrow material was related to the Belmont Road interchange and its new alignment,” he added. “There is still 600,000 yards of unclassified material which is being moved around on site. There are places where we have to cut dirt and haul it away. That is still left to do."