There are many reasons for more or better transportation. However, one of the most common motivations for transportation construction is population growth. It’s the main reason for the conception of the Greenville Southwest Bypass in North Carolina.
Greensville, North Carolina, has recently undergone significant growth. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city of Greenville has grown from just over 63,000 people in 2000 to 92,000 plus in 2017. That's growth of nearly 32%. Greenville, which is the largest city in Pitt County, is home to a number of hospitals as well as East Carolina University, which impacts the burgeoning area. "The school is growing and the more it grows, the more the town grows," says Sarah Lentine, Resident Engineer on the project.
Lentine, who has been with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for 10 years, is overseeing the Greenville Southwest Bypass project. She has been involved with the project since its onset. These days it is her job to make sure it's built to specifications, to weigh in on any decisions that need to be made, and to review changes to the plans. The project itself involves creating a four-lane 12.6-mile freeway. Its southern border is in just south of Ayden (another city in Pitt County), and it ends at the U.S. 264 Bypass west of Greenville.
Another part of the construction is the creation of four interchanges and adding loops and ramps to a fifth interchange. The ramps and loops will allow commuters to more easily enter and exit the road in order to get to local businesses. One of the interchanges leads to a major road in and out of downtown Greenville.
Greenville draws people from the surrounding areas. According to Lentine, "People from around Pitt County go to the area to visit the hospitals, work, shop, and to attend East Carolina University." With the new roadway, travel time along the U.S. 264/N.C. 11 corridor will be lessened.
Because traffic will be alleviated along N.C. 11 and U.S. 264, emergency traffic will be able to get to the hospitals quicker. "Traffic will move faster from southern to northern Greenville, just south of Ayden via Stantonsburg Road, where the hospitals are," says Lentine.
NCDOT hopes the new construction will spur residential development. The new interchanges, in particular, are already boosting the local economy. The Ayden area has seen an uptick in development.
While Lentine says the project is pretty standard from a construction standpoint, challenges have arisen. A major construction challenge that all construction projects face in the area is drainage. Because the area is so flat, design changes had to be made and areas had to be regraded to allow for proper drainage. One particular area that was a challenge in regards to drainage was a farm that had old ditches where water was running.
"Our project was draining to these ditches, but they were overgrown with trees and brush and not draining properly," says Lentine. "We had to add clean out of these ditches to the project so water would not start backing up onto the road. This required attaining right of entry from the property owner."
According to Lentine, location has added to the success of the project. "The areas where the interchanges are being built were selected because they were near farmland. Therefore, we didn't impact lots of homes, didn't have to deal with city streets, and are not impacting utilities."
Ahead of Schedule
The project is on track to have an early completion. Construction on the project began in September of 2016, and the expected completion date was June of 2020. However, as of now, it is expected that the main line and all the ramps and loops will be opened by mid-November 2019. Work on the side roads leading into the ramps and loops, as well as new service roads, will still need to be completed.
The early opening, according to Lentine, can be credited to a few factors. The project is being done as design-build. Timeliness was just one reason NCDOT chose to go the design-build route. Design-build also allows the contractor to make choices that save taxpayers money, lessens environmental impact, and alleviates driving delays for motorists.
Barnhill Contracting Company, in partnership with HDR Design Group, submitted the winning bid. They have done all the design work, utility relocations, and right of way acquisitions, with NCDOT playing a significant role in making sure the project is built to the correct specifications. "This takes work from the state and puts it in the contractors' hands and makes it their responsibility," says Lentine. "This helps streamline the process, as rather than having everything go through NCDOT the construction company can simply reach out to the designer to correct problems and make revisions."
Also adding to a faster construction schedule was a break the construction team got during the first winter on the project. Milder than usual temperatures and generally cooperative weather meant work could continue throughout the season with little to no slowdown. While winters often leave projects in the area needing to make up time, the winter of 2016-2017 allowed the crew to move forward and get a jump on the schedule.
Barnhill has shown great determination to complete the project ahead of schedule. They added an extra crew to accelerate the timeline and Lentine says construction has been able to proceed well because different crews are working on various stages of the project at the same time. "While one area is being widened, another crew will be undercutting soil for another area, while a third crew is putting down stone in another area," says Lentine. "Multiple crews are using their multiple talents at the same time."
Originally budgeted for $231.8 million, including $159 million for construction, the Greenville Southwest Bypass project will be above the original expectation. The original submission by Barnhill and HDR did not include a bridge as part of the project. While this was in the specs NCDOT put out, the winning submission found a way around it. "When it came for construction, locals wanted the original design that included the bridge," says Lentine. “This increased construction costs, but even with the increase, the amount is still less than the second bidder."
With the tremendous growth in Greenville and Pitt County, the infrastructure needed to keep up. The Greenville Southwest Bypass will provide an update that enables commuters to easily navigate the growing area.
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