A contractor for the N.C. Department of Transportation has launched a two-year project to completely replace two bridges on Interstate 40 in Haywood County.
Transportation officials have designed a traffic management plan to retain one lane of travel in each direction between U.S. 276 (Exit 20) and mile marker 18. By maintaining this pattern for six months, the contractor can reduce the overall construction time needed to replace the two bridges over White Oak Road.
Traffic conditions, depending on the number of vehicles on the interstate at one time, will likely mirror conditions travelers experienced last winter when a contractor replaced the I-40 bridge over Harmon Den Road and Cold Springs Creek. The contract calls for traffic to remain in this pattern until May 20 in order for crews to replace the bridges, which have reached the end of their service life.
Drivers to and from Tennessee may choose to merge into one lane or utilize I-26 and I-81 to avoid the work zone on weekends and during periods of heavy congestion. The route between Asheville and Dandridge, Tenn., — through Kingsport, Tenn., — adds about 45 minutes driving time compared to a traditional trip through the gorge. Drivers should plan ahead for delays and visit www.DriveNC.gov before driving through the Pigeon River Gorge.
“A wide variety of factors — the dire need to replace the decks, topography of the area, the proximity of the two bridges and traffic data from last winter — were considered before choosing this traffic management plan,” Division 14 Construction Engineer Mitchell Bishop said. “We hope drivers understand the need to balance infrastructure improvement with travel time and safety for drivers and workers.”
Crews from Kiewit Construction will work at both bridge locations at the same time. They will remove the two bridges and replace them with new structures. The westernmost bridge will be replaced with one bridge that includes two 12-foot wide travel lanes for both directions. The existing bridge over White Oak Road and Jonathan Creek will be replaced with one eastbound bridge and one westbound bridge. Both will feature two 12-foot travel lanes.
Both locations will feature wildlife fencing, with jump-outs, that create safe passage for bears, deer, elk and smaller animals from one side of I-40 to the other.
These necessary replacements are part of a five-bridge project, the first of its kind the state to be administered in a new method with the intent of forming a partnership between NCDOT, the contractor and design team. The Construction Manager/General Contractor method is designed to lower costs and expedite delivery from the first step in the design phase to the last inspection. Kiewit Construction earned the contract for $84.3 million.
Traffic will return to two lanes in each direction during the summer and through October of 2023, when lane reductions return so crews can complete the future phases.
Transportation officials are alerting drivers of delays well before they reach the work zone. Digital signs as far east as Burke County, as far south as Henderson County and as far west as Knox County, Tenn., will alert drivers of the lane closures and suggest I-26 and I-81 as alternative routes.
“Driving through the work zone will take the least amount of time on most days,” said Chad Franklin, NCDOT Regional Intelligent Traffic Systems Engineer. “But weekends and busy days, going through Kingsport will save drivers the most time. Planning ahead, and anticipating delays, is a very important part of trip planning this winter.”