The King Street widening project is on schedule as contractors
race toward an Aug. 6 deadline.
Frank Gioscio, resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said that, based on contract pay-outs as various stages of work are completed, the project is on the fast track for its targeted completion date.
The project became a priority when the state received federal stimulus funds this spring, with the goal of completing the main work by the time the new Watauga High School opens for the fall semester in 2010.
"We're so new into the project, but if I had to say, we're probably right on schedule," Gioscio said Tuesday. "Taking the percentage of what is paid to the contractor, we're probably a little bit ahead."
The contract specifies stages that should be completed by certain dates, and the contractor has a major financial stake in having all lanes open by the deadline. The contractor will receive a bonus if the project routes all traffic in the final traffic pattern from the N.C.105 Extension to NC 194 in Perkinsville by Aug. 6, but will be fined each day after that if the project is late.
"There is a bonus clause and liquidated damage clause," Gioscio said. "If they meet this deadline, the NCDOT will pay them a $300,000 incentive. If they do not meet it, they will pay a penalty of $5,000 a day."
Gisocio said it's likely that periphery work will continue past the deadline into next fall, but the major lanes should be open.
"That doesn't mean it has to be totally complete--but they have to have it in the final traffic pattern with all the lanes open," he said. The 1.1-mile widening has an estimated price tag of $15.2 million.
The utility companies are also playing a role in the speed of the project. "Blue Ridge Electric (Membership Corporation) is totally done," Gioscio said. "New River Light & Power is ahead of schedule and doing everything they can to stay out of the way. AT&T has the potential of slowing things down if they don't start moving poles for us."
Many utility poles are shared and main poles are already installed, and a series of "duct banks" will allow for utility connections that cross beneath the street. The project will have 13 such banks, which will reduce the number of overhead wires and improve the skyline, a request made by the Town of Boone.
On Sunday night, crews will close some lanes while they are out in the road installing duct banks, but it shouldn't lead to major delays, Gioscio said.
Meanwhile, major milestones are occurring on the U.S. 321 widening below Blowing Rock. Three sections of passing lanes will be opening this week, which will help traffic flow. Gioscio said there had been complaints about slow-moving trucks, especially with northbound traffic heading up the mountain.
"We know we're going to be working on the project until sometime next year, and we have had some public complaints," Gioscio said. "There will be two areas for northbound traffic and one for southbound traffic (to pass). That's kind of a major milestone for us, to open up part of the project for more than two lanes.
The project began in 2005 and is already a year behind its original expected completion date. Gioscio said it would likely be completed by summer.
The third phase of the widening between Caldwell County and Blowing Rock, which passes through the Green Park Historic District and the downtown area, is already a year behind before it even starts. Right-of-way purchases and negotiations are underway for the third phase, which is scheduled for construction in 2011.