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NCDOT poised to award $271 million contract for I-26 widening

A timeframe to start a construction project on Interstate 26 in Henderson County is becoming clear.

Construction will begin in November on a Henderson County stretch of I-26 to reduce traffic congestion and improve travel in Buncombe and Henderson counties.

The N.C. Department of Transportation opened bids last week to widen I-26 to eight lanes from Airport Road at the Buncombe County line to U.S. 25 Business at the Mountain Home/Fletcher exit and six lanes from there to the U.S. 64/Four Seasons Boulevard exit.

A partnership team of Archer-Western and Wright Brothers Construction — Archer-Wright Joint Venture — was the low bidder on the newest project and will likely be awarded the contract for $271 million at the NCDOT’s Board of Transportation meeting on Oct. 3.

A companion project to widen I-26 from Airport Road to Brevard Road in Buncombe County has been awarded and is scheduled to start in mid-October. Fluor-United Joint Venture of Greenville, S.C., won that contract with a bid of $263 million.

The two projects will increase capacity on one of the most critical corridors in Western North Carolina, the NCDOT said.

“It’s no secret to anybody that lives in our area or who drives on I-26 that we have issues with congestion,” Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said in a news release. “People have to base their schedules around that. They need to leave for work earlier, or factor traffic when going to a doctor’s appointment or a child’s ballgame.
“This project will be more reliable for people getting to their destinations and will improve their lives because they’re not sitting in traffic.”

The Henderson County portion includes reconfiguring the intersection with U.S. 25, remodeling rest areas in both directions, replacing three bridges on the interstate and five bridges over the interstate, including the Blue Ridge Parkway span high above the roadway. Other project highlights include multiple retaining walls, upgrading all drainage systems, new concrete pavement and additional safety improvements to this corridor. The eastern-most segment of the I-26 widening, from Four Seasons Boulevard (exit 49) to the U.S. 25 Connector (exit 54), has not been funded.

"We are thrilled to come together on this joint venture to create an interstate that will benefit the people of western North Carolina, those who come to visit and those who are just passing through," said Jeff Ball, construction manager for Wright Brothers. "We will do our absolute best to deliver a project that residents will be proud of and one that will make their lives better."

At least two lanes of traffic will remain open in each direction during the day. The project should be completed in the summer of 2024. Division 14 engineers and officials from Archer-Wright are meeting regularly to determine project schedules, review and revise traffic-control plans, finalize other details, and prepare for the first official day of construction.

NCDOT employees and engineering partners have been preparing for this project for years by developing roadway and traffic control plans, securing the necessary environmental permits, developing a river usage plan and coordinating efforts with local officials to prepare for emergency response situations including winter storms.

A wide variety of agencies have helped prepare for the project, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Geological Survey, Buncombe County, Henderson County and other stakeholders.

“We have accomplished a monumental task in getting to this point when you think of how many thousands of hours people have poured into the planning, designing and permitting efforts,” Burch said. “We are elated to announce construction starting soon.”