V&G Breaks Ground on NC FedEx Hub

Wed March 17, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

GREENSBORO, NC Nearly six years after the project was announced, construction of a $500 million FedEx hub finally has begun on the edge of Piedmont Triad International Airport. Environmental concerns have delayed the project, but proponents believe all hurdles now have been cleared.

That is good news for Vecellio & Grogan Inc., the Beckley, WV, contractor that specializes in site and road work.

The company has been awarded the first phase contract: $20.5 million for initial site grading and the relocation of a two-lane roadway. It also is the apparent low bidder for the $44 million second phase, which largely is for repositioning a four-lane expressway that connects the airport with Greensboro, and for building an interchange.

Ground finally was broken on the project in January with the clearing of 5 acres (2 ha) to prepare for three sedimentation and erosion-control ponds. But atypical snow and ice storms then swooped in on the area and, in early March, site work was still in its early stages.

That’s the way it has been. The story of the project to this point has been delays and more delays, mostly legal.

A local alliance of opponents has stoutly resisted development of the 250-acre (100 ha) hub site. They insist that Brush Creek and its tributaries and wetlands will be damaged during construction of the facility. They also say if the project proceeds, noise will degrade the quality of life after FedEx cargo planes begin to fill night skies.

The latest of the legal decisions in the dispute came Feb. 5 when a judge denied a request to stop work temporarily until an appeal could be heard on a water quality permit.

Judge Beecher Gray said, in essence, enough is enough. He said temporarily halting work was unnecessary because he didn’t believe the opponents had any hope of stopping the project permanently.

Yet that favorable ruling for builders is not the last courtroom word on the matter: Opponents have filed another appeal.

The impact of such chronic legal challenges on the job can be measured in at least two ways.

First, delay obviously pushes back the opening. The package-sorting facility was once expected to open next year. Now it will process its first packages no earlier than 2009.

Second, delay costs money. In response to the latest legal challenge, the airport operating authority asked Vecellio & Grogan to estimate financial damages to the company if the project was delayed two months, five months and one year beyond the contractual end date.

The damage would be incurred in idled supervisors and equipment, inflated labor, equipment and materials costs, and inflationary adjustments for subcontractors.

A V&G chief engineer, Richard Hertzer, estimated damages ranging from just under $1 million for two months to nearly $4.5 million for a year.

Hertzer noted in legal documents that his estimates were based on the first two phases being worked on concurrently. Should obstacles of some sort split the projects so they cannot be worked in tandem, the cost of delay would rise.

Despite all of this legal back and forth, in early March, under blue skies and commercial jet contrails, the work near the airport finally proceeded.

On a hilltop north of the two existing runways, Caterpillar D8 dozers cleared remnants of cleared trees and brush. A Cat 330C loader picked up and dropped bunches of the material into a Caterpillar articulated truck for carting away.

Old Oak Ridge Road cuts under a brow of the airport property at that point and separates the airport from the work site. In five years, the FedEx facility is expected to be sitting squarely atop the roadway.

Thus, relocation of the road is a necessity. To that end, Vecellio & Grogan will build and pave two lanes about 5,000 ft. (1,524 m) long to detour traffic while it builds a permanent 1,000-ft. (305 m) three-lane segment of the road. Curb and guttering and installation of various utility lines also are involved.

The larger highway relocation project is just west of the cleared site. There, Old Oak Ridge Road intersects with Bryan Boulevard.

Because the FedEx site encroaches on Bryan, too, Vecellio engineers will move to the north all four lanes of the expressway, which was just constructed about 15 years ago. They also will build a major new interchange that will serve and connect Old Oak Ridge Road and Bryan Boulevard travelers.

The roadway work and auxiliary projects will scoop up between 4.5 and 6 million cu. yds. (3.4 and 4.5 million cu m) of earth. Hertzer anticipates at least 50 major pieces of V&G equipment will work the site in the first year.

These machines will include 15 100-ton (90 t) trucks hauling an estimated 3 million cu. yds. (2.3 million cu m) of dirt from borrow pits. A Cat 5110 excavator has been leased to speed the work.

Because the borrow pits are across Bryan Boulevard from where the dirt is needed, a temporary bridge will be erected to carry trucks over the expressway. At least part of that temporary structure is expected to be a unit from Mabey Bridge & Shore Inc.

For short-haul, cut-and-fill work, a fleet of Caterpillar 631D scrapers will be used.

FedEx officials say the facility eventually will employ 1,500 full-time and part-time workers. Local economists say the facility will mean billions of dollars of new economic activity in the Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem area.

It might pan out that way in the long term. In the short-term, Vecellio & Grogan will boost the local economy by running a crew of 90 equipment operators and laborers, about three quarters of whom will be local hires.

The third and fourth stages of the project, not yet bid, are on airport property. The biggest of the jobs also is the longest –– a 9,000-ft. (2,740 m) runway. It is a third runway for Piedmont Triad International Airport and is needed to accommodate the extra FedEx traffic. It complements existing 10,000-ft. (3,048 m) and 6,300-ft. (1,920 m) runways.

A connecting taxiway between the new parallel runway and the adjacent one will be 5,000 ft. (1,524 m) long. Coming on line in phases will be various other aircraft aprons, employee parking lots and related hard-surfaced areas.

The pavement upon which the cargo jets will land and taxi will be substantial. It could be constructed of up to 18 in. (45 cm) of concrete resting on an 8-in. (20 cm) asphalt base. However, the type and dimensions of paving material have not been decided upon, according to Larry Allen, project engineer with Baker and Associates, the consulting firm providing general oversight on the project.

Opponents and backers of the hub seem to agree on one thing: The ramped up facility will be noisy. How intrusive the noise will be is not agreed upon.

As the hub develops, night-time flights will build from about two dozen a night to more than 60 a night. Most will arrive and take off between midnight and morning.

A $1.2 million two-year study by Andrew S. Harris Inc. will examine the noise and danger issues and come back with suggestions to minimize both. The Federal Aviation Administration is paying for most of that study.

A more immediate response to this noise potential was by High Point city officials, who couldn’t help but notice that most of the night-time flights will come right across the north end of their city.

Consequently, council adopted new development rules that require builders of housing in the path of the runway to insulate the structures so that exterior noise is cut by 30 decibels. The council also banned new housing in some areas. It even requires developers to notify prospective homebuyers that nights for them could be noisier than usual.

None of the noise will arrive before 2009, however. Maybe later.