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Stimulus money affecting traffic, but not on Yadkin bridge

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Have you been stuck recently in Interstate 85 traffic in Cabarrus County?
You probably have federal stimulus money to thank for your delay ó and the eventual road improvements.
More than $3.4 million of American Reinvestment and Recovery money is going toward the milling, resurfacing, rumble strips and shoulder reconstruction under way between U.S. 29/601 and N.C. 73.
The 3.34-mile project is scheduled for completion Oct. 30.
Blythe Construction is the contractor for the work that started July 14.
Motorists using Interstate 77 in Iredell County also are running into delays north of Statesville.
The construction includes milling, resurfacing, concrete repair and shoulder reconstruction from mile markers 56 to 62.
The N.C. Department of Transportation says motorists can expect to see more interstate work zones the rest of this summer and fall because of federal stimulus funding and Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE) funds.
The DOT has received $838 million in Reinvestment and Recovery money, of which $735 million is designated for highway and bridge projects.
The remaining $103 million is going toward transit projects, including a $756,650 grant to the city of Salisbury for its bus service.
Meanwhile, there’s not much new to report on the possibility of a new Interstate 85 bridge across the Yadkin River.
Federal stimulus money could factor into that $300 million project, too.
Gov. Bev Perdue’s office announced earlier that she is pursuing discretionary grant money included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to use for replacement of the Yadkin River bridge on I-85, which connects Rowan and Davidson counties.
The Reinvestment and Recovery Act includes $1.5 billion in supplemental surface transportation discretionary grants to be awarded to states for transportation projects.
The grants will be awarded on a competitive basis and can range in size from $20 million to $300 million, with not more than 20 percent of the total money allocated to any one state.
Perdue and Transportation Secretary Gene Conti have been working with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, both Democrats, and the rest of North Carolina’s congressional delegation to obtain funding.
Conti flew to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with the congressional delegation or staff members to make another pitch for stimulus money for the Yadkin River bridge.
The cost of the design-build contract is estimated at $280 million to $330 million.
The new bridge is part of a bigger DOT project to widen I-85 from north of Long Ferry Road (Exit 81) in Rowan County to US 29-52-70/I-85 Business (Exit 87) in Davidson County.
The section is 6.8 miles, and the improvements would widen I-85 to eight lanes and build the new bridge.
Interchanges along the project would be revised to accommodate the widening.
The project also would address structural deficiencies of numerous other bridges, pipes and culverts along the project.
The existing bridge ó Bridge No.137 ó was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 33.9, which deems it “structurally deficient.”
In addition, the DOT considers the bridge “functionally obsolete” with excessively narrow shoulders.
This I-85 portion is one of the last remaining substandard segments between South Carolina and Durham. The Yadkin River bridge also is the only interstate crossing of the river between the Charlotte Metro and the Winston-Salem/Greensboro Triad regions, increasing the strategic importance of this bridge for mobility, access and national security.
According to a DOT report, the horizontal alignment over the Yadkin River does not meet current standards.
Traffic approaches the Yadkin River Bridge on a sharp curve at high speed, and the improvement project proposes to shift the road to the south to improve the horizontal curvature and provide a better transition on and off the new bridge.
Over the recent three-year period ending Dec. 31, 2008, DOT data indicate that 564 crashes occurred over this 6.8-mile stretch of I-85.
The total crash rate is approximately 77 percent higher along this stretch of I-85 than the statewide average crash rate for comparable facilities.
This portion of I-85 carries approximately 60,000 vehicles per day. Future growth and reliance on I-85 is expected to generate roughly 110,000 vehicles per day in the years to come.
Trucks represent roughly 24 percent of all traffic.
On the I-85 project, the DOT is currently resolving historic issues in compliance with Section 4(f) of the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
When this is finished, the DOT and Federal Highway Administration intend to sign a document updating the previously signed “Environmental Assessment” and “Finding of No Significant Impact,” which will conclude all necessary planning work.
The DOT says the overlap of the design-build procurement process with the planning work could allow for the project to be let to contract as early as November, if funds are available.

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