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Features - September 2003

North Carolina's Knightdale Bypass

Roughly 11-mi. bypass project will relieve congested U.S. 64 near Raleigh

by Scott Judy

A pair of contracting teams is earning rave reviews for their performances on roughly $170 million of work building the new Knightdale Bypass near Raleigh, N.C., a much-needed project aimed at relieving congestion on crowded U.S. Highway 64.

With fast-tracked schedules facing both contractors - joint venture firm North Carolina Constructors and Vecellio & Grogan of Beckley, W.Va. - it's notable to hear North Carolina Department of Transportation officials sing their collective praises just over one year into the jobs.

Steve Leonard, resident engineer with NCDOT in Raleigh, used phrases such as "thoroughly impressed" and "nothing but good things to say" when discussing the work of the two firms.

North Carolina Constructors, a joint venture of HBG Flatiron, Longmont, Colo., and Lane Construction Co. of Meriden, Conn., has the biggest share of the Knightdale Bypass project, which is being built almost entirely in open country. NCC's $131 million contract covers approximately 9.6 mi. of the new six-lane freeway and includes 23 bridge structures located at 15 separate sites - several of which are highly regulated wetlands areas.

In addition to being one of NCDOT's largest current contracts, it's also one of the state's first and biggest design-build projects.

Vecellio & Grogan's $41 million contract - awarded through the traditional design-bid-build scenario - covers the final, completing piece of the new Knightdale Bypass. The roughly 2 mi. worth of work includes the construction of two interchanges and some flyover structures that will tie the new bypass into Interstate 440.

NCC moving fast

While the interchange/flyover contract had been designed and was ready to be let to bid, the design of essentially three other segments was lagging. In order to move forward on the entire bypass project at once, NCDOT grouped the three remaining sections together and sought design-build proposals.

The NCC joint venture - a 60/40 split between HBG Flatiron and Lane, with HBG Flatiron serving as the lead firm - won that competition with the lowest price and the most aggressive schedule, $131 million worth of work completed in approximately 30 months.

"I was skeptical when the contract came out," said NCDOT's Leonard. "But I have been thoroughly impressed by their effort, their organizational skills, their construction savvy and their progress. Their progress is unbelievable. They've got 80 to 90 percent of those bridges under construction. It's just unreal."

NCC started work in July 2002, with a completion target of December 2004 - about seven months ahead of NCDOT's estimated date. Approximately one year into construction, the joint venture had reached an estimated 39 percent completion, with roughly 18 months to go.

Paul K. Newman, NCC project manager, said the team's goal is to finish building the structures by the end of the year. "We're also continuing to do the cut and fills," he added. "Glover Construction [of Pleasant Hill, N.C.] is doing a good job [on this work]. We've been hampered by the weather over the past several months - way-above-normal rain.

"It's not that it rains every day, but when we get a rain event it takes us two or three days to recover from it, due to the [red clay] soils," he continued. "The stuff just doesn't drain and it takes a day or two for it to recover and to be able to get back on it."

Newman said Glover wasn't able to get back to work until the beginning of June, and then lost 12 workdays that month. "Knock on wood we appear to be out of the woods," he added. "[Glover's] increased his work and his equipment for us, and he's making some good strides."

Glover's scope of work includes approximately 2.85 million cu. meters of dirt and rock excavation.

The rain hasn't impacted the bridges as much, though it often required the rebuilding of access roads. Still, crews have mostly been able to keep working and are roughly 45 percent complete. Nine of the 15 bridge sites feature structural steel structures, and six will be built with precast concrete girders.

Of those, Newman said the two "toughest work sites" were the 662-ft.-long Bridge 2 over Crabtree Creek and the 1,575-ft.-long Bridge 4 over the Neuse River. Both travel over wetlands areas and required the erection of temporary work structures to position the cranes and other equipment necessary to build the bridges. Both structures were over 50 percent complete.

NCC plans to complete most of the bridge structures before winter hits, with the cut-and-fill operation continuing until next summer.

Joint venture partner Lane Construction will lead the fast-tracked concrete paving effort. The new mainline will consist of 290-mm-thick concrete pavement resting on a 75-mm permeable asphalt drainage layer, with 25 mm of asphalt concrete surface under that, all sitting on top of 200 mm of either lime- or cement-treated subbase. Work on this part of the project begins late this year.

As for the venture into design-build with NCDOT, it's been positive to date, said Newman, who recently spent six years on the "Big Dig" project in Boston.

"From the environment I came from [on the Big Dig], it's just like night and day," he said. "Instead of people putting roadblocks in front of you, it's full speed ahead. The DOT has done a good job of monitoring but not hindering."

The state is intent on making its foray into design-build a success, and this project matters a lot towards that end. "It's huge for the department," Leonard said of NCC's contract. "We want this project to go well. We want our design-build to go well."

Vecellio & Grogan's contract

Vecellio & Grogan began its work on its $41 million interchange and flyover section at approximately the same time, July 2002. And like NCC's contract, Vecellio & Grogan's timetable is to complete its project by December 2004. The contractor's work will connect the new Knightdale Bypass through an interchange leading to I-440, and another interchange at New Hope Road. These structures will be a mix of concrete and structural steel.

In addition to building these elevated structures, Vecellio & Grogan's contract includes approximately 1 million cu. meters of dirt excavation. The contractor is self-performing this work.

To date, one of the biggest challenges on the project has been the extensive utility line relocations. A 60-in. city of Raleigh sewer main that meandered through the project had to be relocated south of the new alignment, outside of the right-of-way, in an easement. "That's been a real challenge," said NCDOT's Leonard. "There was about a 70-ft. rock cut over that sewer line to get through there. That was a pretty big challenge to manipulate that dirt and get it in. But they've got an excellent sub - Park Construction's doing that."

The relocated line will actually be dual 60-in. lines. Excavating for the new sewer main proved somewhat tricky because Park Construction had to keep any hauling over the existing line to a minimum.

Also, like NCC, Vecellio & Grogan has been hampered by the wet, rainy conditions, yet remains on schedule.

"At this time, we're there [on schedule]," Leonard said. "We've had a lot of rain, but they've been able to move forward. The bridge work, especially, was not hindered too bad by that." Vecellio & Grogan is also self-performing the majority of the bridge work.

"The bridge crews are working five days a week, maybe six," Leonard added. "And the grading folks have actually taken some Saturdays off."

Of Vecellio & Grogan's overall effort, Leonard's assessment was similar to that of NCC.

"It's been a real good effort," he said. "They've been a real good contractor to work with, very proactive. I don't have anything but good things to say about them."

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