After 15 years of planning and environmental studies, a widening project has begun on Interstate 26 between Hendersonville and Asheville.
Nathan Moneyham, NCDOT Division 13 assistant construction engineer is overseeing the Buncombe County project.
This 18-mile stretch is used daily by locals and is a commercial route to the Port of Charleston.
Traffic counts in 2017 showed a volume of 84,000 vehicles a day near I-40, slightly fewer in southern Buncombe County (82,000) and substantially less traffic in Henderson County (67,000).
The project will widen the roadway from U.S. 64 in Hendersonville to Brevard Road in Asheville – most of that distance from four to eight lanes.
Also, the pavement structure will be improved and deteriorating road surfaces repaired. NCDOT reports that the existing roadway surface has undergone major rehabilitation twice, the last time in 2011.
Under general contractor Fluor-United, a joint venture, approximately 200 people in multiple crews work a predominantly Monday-Friday, but some work will continue through the night.
Facing mountainous conditions that require some big cuts even though it’s not a new location, Moneyham said workers have to determine whether to dig or chip the rocky soil. “We’ll do some blasting, but not major rock cuts,” he predicted.
Rock cuts will be reused and NCDOT estimates that 500,000 yds. of waste will be reclaimed. Other materials needed for the project include stone for a drainage layer and about 500,000 sq. yds. of concrete pavement. It’s such a big amount, they anticipate setting up a batch plant on site.
A second project is under the direction of general contractor Archer-Western Wright, a joint venture between Archer Western and Wright Brothers, who oversee an average of 75 to 125 people working on site daily and another 30
doing site prep, excavating more than 1 million cu. yds. of earth. Widening this section will require 534,000 tons of aggregates, 470,000 sq. yds. of concrete paving, 104,000 sq. ft. of walls, 453,000 tons of asphalt, 67,000 LF of storm drain and 223,000 sq. ft. of sound wall.
This contract includes a vertical construction component. In addition to the 10 bridge structures that will be demolished and rebuilt, two rest areas built in the 1950s also will be razed and replaced while larger parking areas will be added.
There are many unique challenges, including the Blueridge Parkway Bridge that spans the interstate. Because the old bridge is not wide enough, a new structure will be built beside the existing bridge out of pre-cast, segmental sections requiring “massive cranes” to place them. Work on that will begin next year and will require traffic to shift during placement.
The Henderson County section will cost $271 million, and the Buncombe County section $253 million, for a total on the two contracts of more than $534 million.
It is anticipated that both projects will be completed by April 2024.