Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Regarding the new Blue Ridge Parkway bridge that appears stalled halfway over I-26, why has it moved so slowly? And why does it now appear completely stalled? Stalled construction projects in the real world cost somebody a lot of money. There is expensive equipment just sitting there. So my conclusion is that there is a problem, and more specifically I would expect it to be a design issue. Not only are new precast segments not arriving on site, but there is no progress whatsoever in preparing the west side of site to receive the oncoming structure. A well run project would have the west side work happen concurrently to be ready to marry up to the oncoming concrete tube. This appears to me to be a very unique bridge design. Where else has it been done successfully? Or have there been problems? Also, how safe is the current structure for the thousands of cars traveling under it? And finally, when you find out the problem, how much extra will it cost to resolve it? And who other than the taxpayers will pay to resolve it?
My answer: Every time I drive under this hanging bridge, I find it strangely mesmerizing. Then I realize I’m 12 inches from a tractor-trailer and I should probably look at the roadway and not the bridge, if I’d like to make it home.
Real answer: This project is part of the humongous I-26 widening effort we’ve all been enjoying since it started in 1873.
I jest. The $531 million widening project started in October 2019 and should wrap up in 2025, almost a year later than originally predicted, as we’ve previously reported. But the new Blue Ridge Parkway bridge itself remains on schedule, according to Luke Middleton, I-26 Widening resident engineer with the NCDOT’s Asheville office.
“Since the bridge is being built adjacent to live traffic, work had to be staged,” Middleton said via email. “Bridge crews built the east side of the bridge, while the prime contractor worked on I-26 under the bridge.”
The type of bridge uses a balanced cantilever method, and it’s built piece by piece, with the prefabricated concrete sections extending outward from a concrete pier.
“By moving I-26 traffic to the westbound alignment, the bridge sub-contractor (VSL International) has ample room for equipment to construct the west side of the bridge and storage for pieces while not interfering with I-26 traffic,” Middleton said. “Now, the bridge crews have switched to constructing the west side of the bridge and anticipate finishing the west pier in the coming weeks.”
Middleton said this is an unusual building technique.
“To my knowledge, the only other segmental bridge in the NCDOT system is the Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks,” Middleton said.
While the bridge’s unfinished appearance can be a little disconcerting, it is in balance as it’s supposed to be.
“The structure is extremely safe,” Middleton said. “The precast segments are tied together with multiple strands of rebar that are anchored back to the bridge approach. NCDOT would not have allowed traffic to drive under the bridge otherwise.”
In summary, Middleton said, “there are no issues with the construction or the schedule of the bridge construction.”
The I-26 widening, which includes 9.1 miles of I-26 from U.S. 64 in Hendersonville to Airport Road, and another 7.8 miles of roadway from Airport Road west to the I-40/240 interchange in Buncombe, will provide eight lanes of new concrete — four in each direction. In Buncombe County, it’s also going to include a new exit from I-26 to Frederick Law Olmsted Way, which leads to Brevard Road, as well as to the new $650 million Pratt & Whitney plant in southern Buncombe County.
The new Blue Ridge Parkway bridge, which has a $14.5 million price tag, will be 605 feet long, with two travel lanes and a sidewalk on the north side. The width is 36 feet, and the bottom of the bridge will be 85 to 90 feet above the I-26 roadway, the top 105 to 115 feet.
All 76 pieces of the bridge were precast in Wilmington, starting in April 2021. Of the pieces, 62 are for the bridge superstructure and 14 for the two main piers.
Middleton also said there have been no price overruns or penalties on the contractors to date on this bridge.
When the new bridge is finished, the old Blue Ridge Parkway bridge will be demolished.
Middleton could not provide a definitive date for the bridge to be finished because weather can always cause delays.
“For the segmental portion of the bridge, I’m estimating four-eight months, including segmental punch list work,” he said. “I believe the contractor has a goal of completing the west side of the structure by the end of December, (but) I’m still leaning towards four-eight months to stay on the conservative side, as we don’t know how the winter temperatures/weather will affect their construction.”
Question: I am a frequent visitor to my daughter’s house on Pearson Drive — she’s up near the Chestnut end. I have noticed over the last years a stunning increase in the speeders on Pearson. It seems somewhat less from Chestnut going down towards Waneta, but from Waneta heading up, you can hear them racing up, with no slow down and going over 55 mph well by the time they pass her front porch. She tells me the Montford homeowners have had an active blog about this for years, but repeated attempts to get the city to do something have been met with deaf ears. Can you let whoever is in charge of this city street know that there is a huge problem waiting to happen? All it will take is an errant dog, or toddler to chase a ball into the street at the last minute for a preventable tragedy to occur. Can Pearson be made a 20/25 mph street? That actually might not help, as folks will still speed. Also, there’s never police to catch them on this quiet side street. Speed bumps — we need two at a minimum! — need to be installed. Thank you for anything you can do on this.
My answer: I’m thinking Riverview Drive in West Asheville could spare 10 or 12 speed humps and still have plenty left. Seriously, if you’ve driven this road, you know what I mean. There’s a speed hump about every 50 feet.
Real answer: I sent this question to the city of Asheville and the Asheville Police Department, and city spokesperson Kim Miller answered on behalf of both. First Miller noted the speed limit on Pearson is 25 mph.
“Four new speed limit signs were added to existing signage in 2022 to help make drivers more aware of the speed limit,” Miller said, adding that the city also looked at the issue of speeds on the street in 2019 and 2020. “Those data collection efforts showed measured speeds on Pearson Drive did not meet criteria to qualify for traffic calming, or speed humps.”
This gets a bit technical, but to qualify for speed humps, the 85th-percentile speeds must be more than 5 mph over the speed limit, Miller said.
“The 85th-percentile speeds were generally in the 25 to 28 mph range, which is within 5 mph of the speed limit,” Miller said. “We receive many requests for traffic calming on city-maintained streets and have a growing list of streets on which to conduct traffic counts. Pearson remains eligible for a recount.”
The city, and pretty everyone else, would like drivers to adhere to the speed limit, but Miller acknowledged that “even posted signs don’t deter some drivers from operating vehicles at unsafe speeds.
“Asheville Police encourages residents to use the APD Traffic Enforcement Request Form to report and track incidents of speeding and other traffic violations that put residents at risk,” Miller saide. “Currently, APD has no complaints on file for this particular street.”
I suspect they’re going to have a few soon.
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