‘Making Hay While The Sun Shines’ US 321 Widening Project Moving Along in December

Published Friday, December 11, 2015 at 10:38 am


By Jesse Wood

Don’t tell the ski resorts down the road, but this warm weather has been good for something; it’s allowed road construction crews on the U.S. 321 widening project in Blowing Rock to continue into the darkest days of the year.

Over the fall and winter seasons since the contract for the road project was awarded to Taylor & Murphy in December 2011 (and subsequently taken over by Maymead Inc.), the High Country has experienced a significant snowfall by now – and if not, cold snaps to prevent paving operations.

But it’s almost the middle of December and Sugar Mountain Resort, for example, has only received .1 inches of natural snow, and RaysWeather.com forecasts Boone to have a high of 67 on Saturday and several consecutive days of nearly the same.

“The weather has been wonderful for us. We have had some rain but have been able to continue operations along the closed section, future southbound lanes and that has allowed us to continue working without impacting lanes of traffic on U.S. 321,” said, Caprice Cheeks, NCDOT engineering technician and operator of the project hotline. “We’ve really taken advantage of the sunny weather.”

If the weather forecast holds up, Cheeks said that crews will shift traffic towards the outside lanes and close the inside lanes both ways for construction activity..

Cheeks said that the focus of work remains along the stretch of highway from the Food Lion shopping center to the Blowing Rock Furniture Galleries. Driveway construction, curb and gutter, paving operations, backfilling behind curb and gutter are among the construction activities taking place on the future southbound lanes. Recently, there has also been paving operations on Sunset Drive, which connects with U.S. 321 and Main Street in downtown. The goal is to bring Sunset Drive and all other connectors level with the highway.

Cheeks noted that the closed southbound section of U.S. 321 is blocked from public access except for entrances to businesses. Cheeks noted that to keep crews working while at the same time “doing as little impact as possible to the businesses” is a balancing act.

“We are just working when available. We are working six to seven days a week, extended hours and have multiple crews on the project,” Cheeks said. “We are just making hay while the sun shines.”

In the summer, NCDOT officials met with community members who were irked at how long this project has taken to be completed. After a couple NCDOT-granted extensions with no penalties attached (one of which was because of Taylor and Murphy’s financial trouble), NCDOT officials pledged to complete 95 percent of the project (as far as the core stretch of highway through Blowing Rock) by the Fourth of July 2016, which is two years behind the original contract schedule.

Cheeks said that the deadline hasn’t changed and Maymead is currently operating on the latest-expressed schedule. The completion of the entire stretch of the widening project into Caldwell County is expected to occur in 2017.

In the past, the NCDOT has said that the delays stem from design modifications that the town requested, for instance the underground utilities and unforeseen infrastructure or rock found underground during excavation. But another factor was the weather.

“We’re not expecting to stop until the cold weather stops,” Cheeks said.

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