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Ask Matt ... about Blue Ridge Parkway bridge project

A new Blue Ridge Parkway bridge spanning I-26 will replace the current structure as part of the project to widen I-26 to eight lanes from Asheville Highway to I-40. A new Blue Ridge Parkway bridge spanning I-26 will replace the current structure as part of the project to widen I-26 to eight lanes from Asheville Highway to I-40.

Q. When they widen Interstate 26 will they have to rebuild the Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge and if so, how much will that cost?

Yes, the existing Parkway Bridge over I-26 four miles north of the Airport exit – is history. NCDOT will build a new 90-foot high bridge with a longer span next to the existing bridge. This is because the massive concrete bridge abutments will be in the way of the new highway lanes. This is a big-time project and it’s already out for bid.
Rebuilding the Parkway Bridge is part of NCDOT Project No. I-4700. The new span is estimated to cost $20 million or about 10% of the total project which will include widening the interstate from the NC 280 exit near the airport to the I-40/240 interchange in Asheville – also known as malfunction junction. Most of this 8.6-mile section of widening falls in Buncombe County. The next and final I-26 widening work will be done entirely in Henderson County and will start at N.C. 280 (Exit 40) and end 13.6 miles east to U.S. 25 (Exit 54) near Zirconia. Traffic on the Parkway near the bridge is about 3,500 vehicles per day in peak season.
The National Park Service announced last week that it had OK’d the final environmental impact statement for the replacement of the bridge.
The National Park Service is a cooperating agency for the project, and has been involved in the project planning, preparation, and analysis that are documented in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The agency announced Friday that it would adopt the NCDOT document.
The planned widening of I-26 will require the replacement of the existing piers for the Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge because of their proximity to the interstate roadway. The selected action realigns a short portion of the Parkway and requires construction of a new bridge spanning I-26 south of the existing bridge.
The Parkway will remain open during the multi-year construction of the new bridge and demolition of the existing bridge. The construction project includes widening I‐26 from U.S. 25 (Exit 54) south of Hendersonville to U.S. 25 (Asheville Highway Exit 44) to six lanes and widening from U.S. 25 (Asheville Highway, Exit 44) to I‐40/I‐240 to eight lanes. The new bridge will be 606 feet long, with two 10-foot lanes, three-foot shoulders, and a five-foot sidewalk on one side to accommodate the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The project also includes additional parking for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on part of the old Parkway road.
The new two-lane bridge will be erected with precast concrete segments. It will be built about 165 feet south of the existing bridge which will be removed and hauled away. Wanda Austin, NCDOT’s project engineer for this project, said that per an agreement with the National Park Service, a federal agency, NCDOT will cover the full cost for the design and the replacement of the Parkway bridge.
Bids for the I-4700 project will be opened by NCDOT this spring and the project may be awarded as early as this summer. Although motorists may see some clearing activities at the bridge project site, according to Austin it may take as much as nine months to get the precast concrete bridge members procured and on site.
Eighteen years ago a local controversy erupted over plans to widen 14 miles of I-26 in Henderson County, skipping the Buncombe County section. Highway funding was then available yet citizens were divided into basically two camps. The “business camp” was in favor for economic reasons and the “bottleneck camp” was against for fear of traffic back-ups. Many suspected that the known high cost of rebuilding both the French Broad River bridge and the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge contributed to NCDOT’s nearsightedness in their planning. Opponents killed the widening project by winning a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the state had failed to properly complete environmental studies.

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