Residents so ready for I-40 construction to wrap up

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- For nearly four years, drivers along I-40 and 440 near Raleigh have navigated temporary and often shifting lanes, heavy construction, and major traffic. All that will likely change in the next few months.

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Engineers with the NC Department of Transportation say all lanes along both major roads will be open all the time by late fall. Some construction work will be done at night, but state Assistant Engineer David Conner says during the day, all lanes could be open as early as mid-August.

For the residents who've lived and worked around the construction, Friday's announcement may feel like a long time coming.

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Contractors said Friday morning that they're entering the project's final phase.

"You've got to be ready for that construction to be done," said Rex Hinton, a driver at Great Blooms Florist in Raleigh. "Everyday. It's everyday. We're waiting for it. It's just like waiting for Christmas. It's every day."

Rebecca Barrett, of Raleigh, makes the bouquets that Hinton delivers. She faces the Fortify gauntlet on her daily commute.

"That wall that you're driving next to, it's really tough because there's no room for error," Barrett said.

Conner says that during the next two months, workers will be doing a lot of the clean-up work and putting on final touches such as taking down concrete barriers, taking up old road markings, and painting new, permanent ones.

"The biggest challenge is going to be weather," Conner said. "A lot of the work we've got left is going to be weather dependent. If it rains or if it's extremely humid, that could delay some of this work."

John Wilson said he drives back and forth to NC State every day. His route takes him on I-40, through all this construction.

"In the two years I've been here, it's been so routine that I've pretty much just gotten used to it," Wilson said.

"I can definitely say I would like for it to be wrapped up," said Wilson, a Raleigh resident.

Still, Conner said DOT workers see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"These traffic shifts that we're going to start on Monday night are a big step that we've all been looking for. This is the final push. We're finally getting traffic into its final pattern. We're finally getting all lanes open to the traveling public."

But the project is over budget and over its projected time-frame.

We've had to add some additional work," Conner said. "When you start rebuilding something, you don't know exactly what you're going to get into. We've run into some issues where we've had to go back to the contractor and add some change orders to get things fixed. There's no point in rebuilding the road if we can't get everything fixed at one time."

One of the problems Conner pointed to was bad sub-grade.

"The dirt, for lack of a better term, under the roadway, was just saturated. Just not good. There was a lot of clay mixed in, it was just the material itself," he explained. "We've had to go to some additional depths in those locations, pull some of that out, replace some of it. We've had some drainage issues, some existing pipe crushed or not functioning like they were intended to when they were put in."

DOT officials couldn't tell us how much the delays cost or how far over budget the project is but the I-Team was able to quantify the cost of the project in a different way using crash data.

Eastbound fortify crash statistics (.pdf)
Westbound fortify crash statistics (.pdf)

Looking at data from roughly a year and a half before construction began and data from about the same period of time during construction, total crashes skyrocketed from 660 to 1,604. Rear-end accidents made up the largest increase, going from 255 to 739.

But estimated property damage is perhaps the biggest eye-catcher, going from about $2.9 million before construction to $7.6 million during a year-and-a-half time frame.

The next big change drivers are expected to see is the Rock Quarry Road on and off ramps will be closed on Sunday night for about two weeks.

ABC11's Angelica Alvarez contributed to this report.
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