JONATHAN CREEK – A stretch of Interstate 40 in Haywood County is reverting to a winter season traffic pattern to accelerate construction of bridges at two locations in the Pigeon River Gorge.
N.C. Department of 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 bridges on I-40 over White Oak Road.
Traffic conditions will likely mirror those travelers experienced last winter when the contractor started replacing the two bridges, locally known as the high bridge and low bridge. The schedule calls for traffic to remain in this pattern into May in order for crews to finish replacing the bridges, which have reached the end of their service life.
Drivers to and from Tennessee may choose to merge into one lane and continue along this stretch or use 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 – 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 for real-time traffic before driving through the Pigeon River Gorge.
“The traffic management plan includes a balance of the need for infrastructure improvements with travel times and safety for workers and drivers,” Division 14 Construction Engineer Mitchell Bishop said. “The contractor made great strides with their operations last winter and we look forward to substantially completing both bridges before next summer.”
Last winter, crews from Kiewit Construction concentrated efforts on the low bridge then shifted their focus to building a new westbound bridge at the high bridge location over the summer.
On Nov. 1, both directions of traffic will be shifted into a one-lane pattern on the new structure. Then crews will begin dismantling the old bridge before moving to other operations through the winter. 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 will be included at both bridges.
Once this work is substantially complete in May, crews will begin replacing an I-40 bridge over Fines Creek Road (Exit 15) and another nearby bridge over the Pigeon River.
This work is part of a five-bridge project, the first of its kind in the state to be administered in a new method that improves coordination 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 of the design phase until the final inspection. Kiewit Construction earned the contract for $84.3 million.
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 West and I-81 South as alternative routes.
“On most days, safely driving through this work zone will take the least amount of time,” said Chad Franklin, NCDOT Regional Intelligent Traffic Systems Engineer. “But going through Kingsport will save drivers the most time on weekends and busy days. It is important to factor this construction into any travel plans heading through this area over the winter.”