Wooten Expands North Carolina’s I-95
BY Ronald Brock
Serving as the main connection for major destinations along the Eastern Seaboard, I-95 is an important transportation corridor for freight trucks and leisure travelers alike. The 18-mile stretch between the North Carolina cities of Dunn and Fayetteville, alone, sees an average daily traffic volume of 60,000 vehicles.
Adding complications for this busy section of I-95 is the fact that it hasn’t seen major upgrades in five decades. In anticipation of steady traffic increases in the area, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) hired the team at S.T. Wooten, Wilson, as the lead contractor for a $400 million design-build job to widen the stretch and bring it up to modern-day engineering standards.
S.T. Wooten is working with the NCDOT to add two lanes in both directions of I-95 between exits 55 and 72, bringing it to eight total lanes. The northern 3-mile stretch of the project, which was designed by the NCDOT, began construction between fall 2019 and spring 2020. Together with design firm partner RK&K Engineering, S.T. Wooten laid out the remaining 15 miles of the project, which is now underway.
In total, it will require approximately 1.4 million tons of asphalt and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete to complete the additional lanes for this job. To construct the project, crews are placing 12 inches of Class IV aggregate (870,000 tons) in conjunction with a geosynthetic fabric to stabilize the subgrade, 10 inches of aggregate base course (690,000 tons), and 12.5 inches of asphalt (1.4 million tons) to construct the new lanes along with a minimum of 6 inches of asphalt overlay on the existing travel lanes. Along with these materials there is also 50,000 cubic yards of concrete required for bridge construction, box culverts, concrete barrier rail, and curb and gutter.
There are two nearby plants providing asphalt for this project. Roughly 80,000 tons have come from S.T. Wooten’s Clayton plant, which is situated near the I-40/NC-42 interchange. Most of the remaining asphalt will come from another S.T. Wooten plant in Benson, which was recently assembled. Manufactured by Intrame, this new plant includes some fresh design features such as a single wagon silo system that is helping increase efficiency in production.
Twelve bridges are also being built or replaced as part of the I-95 upgrades. Along with the installation of roundabouts to eliminate stop conditions at some interchanges, a new ramp will be added to connect I-95 North to NC-295 South.
Traffic volumes have been the biggest challenge for crews in the I-95 work zone due to consistent vehicle travel during all hours of the day. Like S.T. Wooten’s nearby project on I-40 in Raleigh, there are several hauling and lane closure restrictions to keep in mind. Project managers have had to be strategic about the schedule to keep construction moving forward with the least disturbance for drivers.
While nightwork schedules allow crews to complete certain activities when there are fewer people on the road, the project’s design helps support general traffic control in the work zone. Broken up into four major project phases, vehicles have been routed through middle lanes in the early phases of construction and then will move to the outside lanes during the final phases to avoid complete shutdowns of the interstate.
Wet weather has been another issue for crews to overcome—especially being in the sandhills region where water often builds and settles. Waiting for rainwater to subside can cause delays with paving and other activities. Project managers have had to continuously monitor and plan ahead based on the weather, adding work shifts or rearranging work times to ensure the project schedules stay on track.
Labor shortages have been an industry-wide obstacle since before the pandemic and it’s something the team has had to address as the I-95 project kicked into high gear this past year. Having anticipated some of those challenges this past winter, S.T. Wooten has been able to put contingency plans in place to help maximize the schedule for the benefit of the project and the crew members.
Part of the commitment to employees is keeping safety top-of-mind in the work zone, which is a heightened concern with large projects like I-95. Heavy traffic and high noise levels mean everyone needs to be on high alert. Keeping things organized on site and having good communication between crew members goes a long way. The professionalism crews have shown in avoiding any close calls is a testament to the dedication and training they devote to taking personal responsibility for safety.
For general public safety and to help with traffic management, I-95 has been designated as a smart work zone. Digital sensors, monitoring cameras, speed limit signs and message boards have been set up throughout the site to help monitor traffic conditions. Information is routed through the NCDOT Statewide Operations Center to alert emergency service teams when there’s an accident and re-route traffic when necessary.
All One Team
S.T. Wooten’s success on the I-95 project so far can be attributed to the leadership of project managers and hard work every day from construction crews. The buy-in from everyone on the project, from crew members to contractors, has helped us weather any storms and manage the unique dynamics brought on by the pandemic.
The project is on target for its 2024 deadline and by the end of it, several hundreds of construction workers from S.T. Wooten and 20+ subcontractors will have had a hand in it. They should all take pride in the benefits their efforts are bringing to countless travelers coming up and down the East Coast in the years to come.
Ronald Brock is a project manager at S.T. Wooten, Wilson, North Carolina.