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NCDOT plans detours during I-26 bridge work

The N.C. Department of Transportation is planning to change construction plans for the widening of Interstate 26 in Henderson County in a way that will save time and money and increase safety by closing sections of I-26 overnight, DOT officials said.

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NCDOT is planning to implement the Incident Corridor Management system in late January or early February when it removes the Clear Creek Road bridge over I-26. The system, which directs traffic to an alternate route and provides longer green lights along the way, will be used again later in the spring when four more bridges in Henderson County are removed.

The plan will save some $1 million in construction costs and allow contract crews to remove the bridges in two to four nights instead of having rolling roadblocks every night for two to three weeks, the DOT said,

“We are fortunate that so many people have put in thousands of hours to design and implement this system for the safety and benefit of I-26 drivers,” Mike Patton, a DOT resident engineer, said. “Safety is our absolute top priority, and we’re able to do that, and save time and taxpayer dollars now by using the ICM overnight.”

NCDOT engineers developed the ICM system to direct local, commercial and emergency traffic to alternate routes between Hendersonville and Asheville in case of an emergency such as an extended closure of I-26 between I-40 and U.S. 64.

Transportation officials in Raleigh or at the Mountain Regional Traffic Management Center can remotely initiate the system in a matter of minutes, activate digital signs and change signal timing to allow more vehicles through signals along the detour routes.

For example, signals on Asheville Highway, Long Shoals Road or Haywood Road would remain green for an extended period time while side streets remain red longer to allow the detoured traffic to flow better along the parallel route.

The original I-26 widening construction plans submitted to NCDOT for removing these bridges included putting eastbound and westbound traffic on the same side of the median with only plastic barrels separating vehicles traveling in opposite directions at interstate speeds. That plan would have required rolling roadblocks overnight for two to three weeks per bridge.

The ICM plan would take two to four nights per bridge, and just one direction at a time. For example, it will close I-26 West at Four Seasons Boulevard and direct traffic to U.S. 64, then to Asheville Highway and back to I-26 in Fletcher. The ICM plan provides more time for lights on the detour to stay green longer allowing the I-26 traffic to flow through Hendersonville.

NCDOT used a similar system in conjunction with rolling roadblocks four nights in 2020 with impressive results. When crews set girders for a new bridge on Clear Creek Road in September, traffic flowed freely overnight on the alternate routes.

“We designed the ICM for severe incidents and have found that it also has great benefits for construction purposes,” said Chad Franklin, Mountain Region Intelligent Traffic System Engineer. “We’ve seen it work in other places, now we’ve seen it work here on a trial basis and we know it will be a big benefit this spring.”