Duke Energy crews put banner flags on the lines to make them more visible and in areas where the cranes must come within 20 ft. (6 m) they put protection over the lines.
There’s been talk around Shelby about the U.S. 74 bypass for a good 20 years, so Ken Thomas, cooperate safety engineer for E.S. Wagner Company has had plenty of time to consider the safety issues that might go with such a project.
But as it turned out, the matters that concerned him were not such big deals, while those he thought were taken care of, were not. Nonetheless, it’s a job Thomas describes as a "kind of dream project."
Phase one of the project got underway in July 2013 with a scheduled finish date of fall 2016. There are five other phases, each about 2.5 to 3 mi. (4 to 4.8 km) long, for a total of about 15 new mi. (24 km) of highway.
"The plan is to help with several concerns," said Jordan-Ashley Baker, spokeswoman of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
"There is congestion in and around Cleveland County and that raises safety concerns. It’s really a growing area and so we’re hoping to alleviate some of the congestion currently on U.S. 74 in Shelby. Another reason why this area is important is because it’s really like a connector between I-26 and I-85. They’re really main arteries in terms of connectivity to the other part of the state. Having this bypass would improve continuity and connectivity."
E.S. Wagner Company LLC, based in South Carolina, won the contract for the $25 million first phase.
"The reason I say it is a dream project is that it’s real simple four-lane interstate right on through the middle of old farmer fields," said Thomas. "We’ve got maybe two public roads, both rural roads. Traffic control is always our biggest nightmare and there has been very little of it. There’s been very little in the way of public access."
Construction equipment on the job includes "belly" dump trucks, track hoes, dozers, rollers, motorgraders, water trucks and scrapers.
The biggest safety concern may come during construction of three new bridges, typical 20-ft. (6 m) high overpasses.
"One of our strong points at Wagner is we self-perform," Thomas said. "We rarely subcontract out. The bridge crews that are going to be building those bridges are our own people. We don’t have the same safety concerns as we would with a subcontractor."
One of Thomas’ early concerns was moving earth with dump trucks from the north side and transporting it to the south.
"If you’d asked me six months ago, I thought that was going to be hairy, getting the trucks across," Thomas said. "That hasn’t been bad. The trucks merge on to 74, get in the left lane and there is a turning lane. That whole operation ended up being a lot less involved. Most of the time traffic on that section has been pretty light."
But there was one issue Thomas hadn’t anticipated. Power lines in the rural area were to have been removed. They were not. With the dump trucks traveling back and forth, one raised bed could have wreaked havoc.
"You’ve always got the nightmare of someone coming out with a dump truck, they dump and forget to put the bed down, said Thomas. Then they are driving across the site and pulling down power lines. We’ve haven’t had that yet."
That can be credited to a traffic plan Thomas put into effect early on for the trucks. When the trucks must cross under power lines, they do so when they are loaded. Then they exit on a route that does not take them under any lines. Wagner also had Duke Energy crews put banner flags on the lines to make them more visible and in areas where the cranes must come within 20 ft. (6 m) they put protection over the lines.
There is one other reason Thomas considers this a dream project.
"The first time I remember hearing about the possibility of 74 bypass was around 1994 or ’95," Thomas said. "It’s one of those the entire city has desperately wanted. The entire community is tickled to see us out there. You don’t get the opposition. Thus far, when we’ve had to do traffic control, people’s attitudes have been positive.
"Also, I set up a meeting with local EMS and fire guys to determine the response time to the project site and rally points. They were just fantastic to work with. They can be on site easily within five minutes. As a safety guy that relieves me."