ASHEVILLE – Transportation crews will soon start a significant stage in the project to widen Interstate 26 at the French Broad River.
Following several weeks of clearing near bridges on I-26 that cross the river, crews from the Fluor-United Joint Venture may begin the first steps of replacing those bridges with a single structure as soon as next week.
“We’re excited to get started on one of the major components of this project,” said Nathan Moneyham, assistant construction engineer for Division 13, which includes counties in the Asheville area. “It’s a big step.”
The widening of I-26 from Brevard Road in Buncombe County to U.S. 64 in Henderson County started this fall and will continue into 2024. The project will reduce congestion and improve the interstate’s ability to handle existing capacity as well as expected future capacity.
The general construction plans for building the new eight-lane bridge over the French Broad River calls for the structure to be built in stages starting with new eastbound lanes. During the daytime hours, two lanes of traffic will be maintained in both directions through the entire process. All work requiring a lane closure will be conducted at night between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Construction will follow plans that meet the National Environmental Protection Act and are approved by multiple environmental agencies — including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Geological Society — that help protect plants, animals and water quality.
In addition to the environmental protections, the designs include a safety plan created by the N.C. Department of Transportation to help paddlers and other river users.
The river will remain open for paddlers and other river users with limited exceptions. Any disruptions will be scheduled during the river’s off-peak usage times. The safety plan for river users includes signage at 14 put-in locations upstream of the bridge, safe-passage lanes around temporary causeways delineated by buoys, a catchment device to prevent debris falling from above, and bat-friendly red lights identifying causeways and other safety precautions.
“We had wonderful input and assistance from folks in the local paddling industry while developing this unique plan designed specifically for river-users,” Moneyham said. “We know the value of keeping the river open, and the importance of keeping it safe for everybody.”