Asheville - Snow blanketed the roads in January. Smoke filled the air into December.
Throughout 2016, crews from the Department of Transportation advanced toward the goals Governor Pat McCrory set forth in his 25-year Vision for transportation.
Employees from Division 13, which includes Buncombe, Burke, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Rutherford and Yancey counties, strove to improve connections across North Carolina by reducing congestion, improving safety, and enhancing mobility throughout the region.
"A key element of Governor McCrory's vision is to connect us, protect us and move us through improved roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure," Division Engineer Jay Swain said. "Projects under construction and completed in 2016 will help keep citizens as safe as possible while getting from point to point for jobs, health care, education and enjoyment."
Crews from Division 13 paved old roads, built new bridges, developed new bike and pedestrian paths and increased the safety of residents and visitors in their eight counties.
"We completed several large interstate interchange projects with our contractors including Exits 104 and 105 on I-40 in Burke County, plus N.C. 80 on I-26," Division Construction Engineer Rick Tipton said.
Transportation crews began the year by removing snow that reached heights of more than a foot. They kept Interstate 40 open from the Tennessee state line all the way through Burke County. Crews also kept traffic on I-26 flowing through the state and I-240 open around downtown Asheville as well as all other major highways and most secondary roadways.
When spring foliage and wildflowers started blooming, transportation officials announced significant progress in plans for the I-26 Connector, a vital interstate freeway that will be part of the I-26 Interstate that extends from the South Carolina coast to the Ohio Valley.
In cooperation with environmental resource agencies, transportation officials selected the most environmentally protective alternatives for three stretches of the largest potential project in western North Carolina.
"This project will greatly enhance all aspects of our economy including the booming tourism industry," Swain said. "It will also increase safety for all motorists in the area."
As those decisions were being made, crews were completing an innovative reconstruction project to reduce congestion on the Airport Road Bridge over I-26. A team completed the diverging diamond in late August. A diverging diamond is designed to move high volumes of traffic through the intersection without increasing the number of lanes or signals, and has shown to significantly reduce vehicle crashes.
The first major test of the new interchange' efficiency came in September during the Mountain State Fair when nearly 200,000 people attended the event. In years past, visitors on the Ferris wheel would see cars backed up on I-26. This year, they saw the dramatic vistas including Pisgah Mountain and unobstructed traffic on the freeway.
"Traffic moved through the interchange with less delay this year," Tipton said. "It's also safer with left turn lanes being unrestricted to the interstate."
Safety, improving multimodal transportation and adding to economic success dominated the sessions over the three day N.C. Bike Summit held in September at the Asheville Renaissance and UNC-Asheville. Cycling leaders from across the southeast - including state traffic engineer Kevin Lacy - shared their thoughts, information and visions for more connectivity in North Carolina.
The 2016 holiday began season with devastating wildfires throughout Western North Carolina., which scored more than 70,000 acres across the state. Despite the devastation, only four major highways needed to be closed including N.C. 80 in McDowell County and U.S. 64/74A in Rutherford County. Transportation officials worked with various state and federal agencies to organize the closures and establish marked detours.
The year concluded with Division 13 crews ready to prepare roads for winter weather with a brine mixture as well as salt trucks.
Heading into 2017, engineers will continue developing plans for the I-26 Connector as well as plans for widening I-26 from Asheville into Henderson County.
The department will open the bidding for contactors in the first few weeks of 2014 for two different paving projects on I-40 — down Old Fort Mountain from the Buncombe county line to Exit 73 and from Exit 86 in McDowell County to the Burke County line. A separate paving project, this one on a five-mile stretch of I-26 from Exit 18 to Madison County line, will get underway in 2017.
Transportation officials encourage the public to follow the department on Twitter for real-time project updates and provide feedback on this year’s work through our 2016 online survey at: go.ncsu.edu/customerservice2016.