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Sleepy Stretch of Highway 87 Gets Barnhill’s Wake-Up Call

Mon February 07, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson


Looking at a map of North Carolina, the 13-mile (21 km) stretch of NC 87 angling southeast from Interstate 95 would not seem to warrant four-laning.

At its southern end, the roadway reaches nothing more than the outskirts of the small town of Tar Heel. The destination hardly seems worth $20.5 million that the NC Department of Transportation is spending on upgrading the highway.

But just outside Tar Heel sits a big, impressive reason for the new roadway: a rambling Smithfield Packing plant, supplier of pork products to hungry consumers. Diesel-powered tractor-trailers parked at the towering facility promise to bellow approval of the two extra lanes when they finally get to barrel north on them toward the interstate the points beyond.

Midway in their trip, they will pass the entrance to a second reason for an upgraded roadway: DuPont Corporation’s Fayetteville Works. The plant sits almost where travelers cross over the Cumberland-Bladen county line.

Barnhill Contracting Company submitted the winning bid to build two new lanes and rework the two older ones so the highway can better serve these industries.

In June, Barnhill’s clearing and grubbing contractor, Sawyer’s Land Development of Belhaven, NC, started to work. By September, Sawyer’s supervisor Maurice Mackey was overseeing some of the final clearing activity. Just north of Tar Heel, he had a heavy equipment team making short work of piles of stumps and scrub trees scraped together earlier.

A Caterpillar D6 dozer tore apart the massed timber so that the operator of a Komatsu 200LC could nimbly snatch bunches of it. Pivoting, the excavator dropped its load into the open back of a tractor-trailer dumper until the bed filled and the driver pulled away. Another trailer quickly was backed into place.

A mile away, Sawyer’s had another D6 working timber piles with a Cat EL200B excavator.

The 35-year-old company, headed by William Sawyer, had to dodge rain in late summer but was keeping to its schedule as it neared an end to the job.

At the north end of the 13 miles of highway is where the other major road work was being done in late September.

Just before the highway reaches I-95 it crosses high above Rock Fish Creek. At that point, Ron Tucker operated the controls of an American 7260 crane on a September afternoon. The machine, with a 75-ton (67 t) capacity, was lifting no more than a small fraction of that as it swung a guardrail section onto a working platform Tucker’s crew was assembling in a work area.

Tucker, the crew and the crane, as well as an American 4250 parked nearby, are all in Cumberland County because they work for United Contractors, a company with headquarters in the Des Moines, IA, area. The company has a working relationship with Barnhill that goes back a couple of years, including teaming up on a project near Jacksonville and on U.S. 64 in Martin County.

Tucker is supervising the construction of a new two-lane span across the creek. The structure will utilize pre-stressed concrete girders to bridge the 330 ft. (100 m) between north and south banks.

A Komatsu PC200LC excavator from United Rentals chewed away at one of those banks, dropping the dirt into the backs of dump trucks. The trucks then rumbled across the old bridge span to dump the dirt on an approach area on the other side.

The tons of soil being trucked this day are part of an estimated 350,000 cu. yds. (266,000 cu m) that Barnhill project manager Michael Tucker expects to relocate within the boundaries of the project. Another 300,000 cu. yds. (228,000 cu m) will be brought to the job from adjacent borrow pits.

The bridge Tucker has begun to raise will, upon completion, temporarily serve all traffic when the old span is dropped and a twin to the new one is raised in its place. That switchover won’t happen until the end of next year. The entire project is not scheduled for completion until the last day of 2002.

Between Rock Fish Creek on the north and Tar Heel on the south is terrain that falls gently on a contractor’s eyes. It is without prominent rises and falls, a moderate workscape for a seasoned contractor. The only highway structures called for in the job are three box culvert extensions.

Taylor will rely on three Caterpillar 615 paddle-pan scrapers to reshape the right-of-way, nudged along by Cat dozers. A Cat 345 excavator will be on site, too, as will 15-20 dump trucks once the distance hauling begins in earnest.

The four lanes will be asphalted or, in the case of the original two lanes, overlaid — each receiving a full nine and a half in. (24 cm) of asphalt. Engineering of a roadbed takes into consideration such factors as traffic, and the widened NC 87 pavement will bear the weight of lots of rumbling trucks.

However, not much rock base will have to be hauled in to undergrid the roadbed, Taylor observed, because the soil is sandy and will drain well of its own accord, unlike in situations where clay soil dominates.

Barnhill, which operates nine bituminous plants in the state, will be its own supplier of what Taylor calls “a good amount of asphalt” — a total of 250,000 tons (225,000 t) over the 13 mi. (21 km).

The only slightly unusual element in the job is that a railroad track intersects with the highway. A spur of the CSX Railroad runs into the DuPont plant. RCC Materials, a subcontractor out of Lexington, NC, has principal responsibility for that leg of the project.

Taylor is managing this job from Barnhill’s Southeast Division office in Fayetteville.

This story also appears on Crane Equipment Guide.




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