Editor’s note: Seldom has Randolph County seen a construction project of the magnitude of the U.S. 64 bypass around Asheboro. With 14.6 miles of expressway to build, along with a 1.8-mile zoo connector, coordination of the project with all its moving parts is similar to conducting a 100-piece orchestra. Everything has to fit together precisely to create a harmonious product. Here’s how they are doing it. Coming Tuesday: Status of U.S. 64 widening project.
ASHEBORO — It’s impossible to travel near the path of the new U.S. 64 bypass around Asheboro without seeing cleared forests, massive earth-moving equipment and bridge construction.
The history of the project, to date, has been compiled into a powerpoint presentation by the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT), from which much of the information in this article originates.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held June 30, 2016; clearing of land began on Aug. 22, 2016; completion is estimated around May 15, 2020. But the first gleam in engineers’ eyes occurred years ago. In fact, the first citizen workshop on a southern loop around Asheboro was held on Sept. 30, 1998.
Originally, there were 44 preliminary alternative routes which were narrowed down to nine.
A public hearing on the corridor was held May 22, 2003, before the final route — Alternative 29 — was chosen on May 12, 2004, considered the least environmentally-damaging corridor.
Why a southern loop around Asheboro?
According to the NCDOT presentation, traffic congestion occurs on Zoo Parkway due to local vehicles mixing with zoo traffic, making it difficult at peak hours for residents to access their homes.
Traffic studies showed that by the year 2040, traffic on Dixie Drive would increase by about 10,000 vehicles per day. But a bypass around the city could actually decrease traffic on Dixie Drive by about 7,000 vehicles per day. Also, an added zoo connector could eliminate traffic backups that now can stretch for more than two miles.
The NCDOT saw Asheboro and western Randolph County as bottlenecks in plans to have divided highways between Raleigh and Statesville (U.S. 64) and Raleigh and Charlotte (N.C. 49). But traffic and land-use conditions along the existing U.S. 64 (Dixie Drive) diminished its ability to function as an intrastate corridor.
It was found that existing traffic congestion along U.S. 64 causes significant delays, increased accidents and inefficient operation of motor vehicles. The accident rate is above the statewide average for similar roadways.
That left designing and building a bypass around Asheboro, preferably to the less-populated south.
The result is a 14.6-mile, four-lane, median-divided highway that begins on U.S. 64 west of Asheboro — near Stutts Road — and ends at U.S. 64 east of Asheboro at Dewey Road.
The project includes six interchanges, 24 bridges and box culverts, and 8 million cubic yards of earth and rock excavation. It will also include enhanced bridge aesthetics around the zoo. The interior bents will have square columns and animal logos in the ends of the caps. The MSE walls and outside face of barriers will utilize a “drystack” stone pattern stained three different colors.
Access will be full control, meaning vehicles would only be able to get on the highway at interchanges. The right-of-way width will average approximately 400 feet, with additional right-of-way needed at interchange locations to account for the ramps.
Interchanges are included at:
* U.S. 64 on both ends of the project.
* N.C. 49.
* Interstate 73/74 (U.S. 220 Bypass).
* The Zoo Connector.
* N.C. 42.
The Zoo Connector will be a 1.7-mile, two-lane, full-control roadway that runs directly from the U.S. 64 Bypass to the entrance of the N.C. Zoo. This will dramatically improve zoo access from the U.S. 64 corridor.
The N.C. 159 grade-separation is being eliminated and a roundabout will be placed at the zoo entrance.
Finding a builder
Once the design was determined and right-of-way acquisition under way, the bidding process for a general contractor began. The $244 million project was awarded in June 2015 to Bypass Constructors LLC, a joint venture between Wright Brothers of Tennessee for earthmoving and bridges and Thompson-Arthur of Greensboro for paving. Rummel, Klepper & Kahl are the lead designers.
Bypass Constructors has the resources for such a project, including 80 pieces of excavation equipment, 10 cranes and enough employees to produce 600,000 manhours of labor, including 127,000 manhours for paving.
At peak work times, there are 200 employees working, many of them local residents. The project also has more than 20 subcontractors, some local, with approximately $31.6 million of the project award going to them.
According to the NCDOT, public feedback on the original design has resulted in “a number of changes to the project that will require the relocation of fewer homes and businesses, as well as provide more protection for the infrastructure being built.”
* Seven additional service roads are being built to avoid relocating 30 families and property owners.
* At a public hearing during the design phase, residents said the state did not need to build a Stutts Road bridge over the new highway, allowing Stutts Road and another secondary road to become cul-de-sacs.
However, when the bridge was not built, residents were concerned that the design change would increase traffic on West Chapel and Back Creek Church roads as well as Stutts Road. So NCDOT invested the savings of not building the bridge into widening and resurfacing those roads.
* To reduce the number of homes and businesses that would have to be relocated, the NCDOT redesigned the East End interchange where the existing U.S. 64 and new bypass will meet.
* To provide more longevity, NCDOT decided to use reinforced concrete culverts instead of simpler drainage pipes that will go under the new freeway.
* The design changes extended the length of the contract. To allow the contractor to complete the project by May 15, 2020, NCDOT has added $4.7 million to the contract. Some of the work was redesigned and two more subcontractors were hired.
* A $5,000 per day incentive has been added if the road opens sooner than the scheduled completion date.
Where are we now?
A year into the construction project and some 33 months from completion, how are things going?
Cary Fine, senior assistant resident engineer for NCDOT Highway Division 8, sent this update on Aug. 8:
“Currently, additional subcontractors and equipment are mobilizing and moving in to begin the large amount of work on the project’s eastern interchange with existing U.S. Hwy. 64. The contractor has taken advantage of the dry favorable weather we have had in the last few weeks and made big strides in their large-scale grading operations, beginning grading on the new U.S. Hwy. 64 and Zoo Connector interchange that will serve as the new gateway for the zoo.
“At this time we have three bridges that are complete with another eight under construction, and 11 of 18 concrete box culverts complete. Also the contractor plans to open the new realignment of Southmont Drive out to U.S. 220 Business (Fayetteville Street) to traffic later this week.
“All in all, we are very pleased with the progress the contractor is making thus far and, although we have a lot of work to go, we are optimistic for the future and eager to be able to open some of these new bridge overpasses and minor road realignments to Randolph County residents within the next year. “
BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s how it adds up to get the U.S. 64 bypass up and running.
COST: $244 million.
DISTANCE: 14.6 miles in length, 1.8-mile Zoo Connector.
SPEED: 70 mph design speed.
FEATURES: 6 interchanges, 7 grade crossings, 24 bridges.
* 500,000 tons of stone base.
* 700,000 tons of asphalt.
* 50,000 cubic yards of concrete.
* 8 million cubic yards of earth and rock excavation.
* 2.75 million cubic yards of rock excavation — on-road vs. off-road.
* 112,000 linear feet of storm drainage.
* 25,000 linear feet of water and sewer.
* 24 bridges and box culverts.
* 2.05 million pounds of steel.
* 10,850 cubic yards of concrete.
NUMBER OF RIGHT OF WAYS: 466 parcels affected.