By Jesse Wood
Maymead continues to make progress on the U.S. 321 widening project through Blowing Rock as the Fourth of July holiday nears. Last summer, NCDOT officials loosely committed to finishing about 95 percent of the project by Independence Day at a Blowing Rock Civic Association-sponsored meeting.
The holiday is now less than two weeks away, and road crews are working extended hours, six to seven days a week as the weather permits, according to Caprice Cheek, NCDOT engineering technician and operator of the U.S. 321 information line.
“I think we are really confident that we will hit our goal to be four lanes open by July 4,” Cheek said on Tuesday. “But there will be additional work.”
Last month, Doug Eller, NCDOT Resident Engineer for Division 11, said that the project was on schedule to be “substantially complete” by the holiday. Eller didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Both Eller and Cheek noted that the final four-lane pattern should be in place by the time fireworks flare up above Tweetsie. Much of the four-lane pattern is already paved in between the Blowing Rock Furniture Gallery and the Tanger Outlets, but as Cheek said, there is plenty of ongoing construction.
On Tuesday, crews are engaged in numerous operations including paving, backfilling behind curb, fence installation, guardrail installation, retaining wall construction, grade work, and storm drainage structure installation. Most of these operations are taking place between Food Lion and Green Park Inn, and “heavy congestion and significant delays” are expected between Tanger Outlets and Food Lion.
“Motorists are encouraged to allow extra time when planning their trips to and through this area of the project,” according to Tuesday’s U.S. 321 traffic briefing. “Alternating traffic shifts are being used as well as flagmen throughout the area during these operations. Motorists are cautioned to slow down and remain alert while traveling to and through the various work zones throughout the project.”
As the project extends southward to the Green Park Inn, traffic in both directions continues to be shifted into permanent patterns – in relation to the median – and the NCDOT is asking motorists to also remain alert of these new traffic patterns.
The portion of the U.S. 321 widening project through the main Blowing Rock area was scheduled to be complete in 2014 when the contract was awarded in late 2011. After the holidays, work left to be completed is some retaining wall work, landscaping, sidewalk construction and shoulder dress-up.
Last summer, NCDOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder said that the “final line of asphalt stripping or such” and other minor work might run on into the spring of 2017 but would not resemble the inconvenience of major construction that the town has seen over the past few years.
“I think they are making great progress. I see those guys working daylight to dark,” Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence said on Tuesday. “If we don’t get there, we’ll just keep going. I don’t think the world is going to come to an end if it’s not substantially done by July 4.”
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