The contractor building the outerbelt in northwest Mecklenburg hopes to have the highway open before Thanksgiving, after missing an Oct. 31 scheduled opening.
In a letter to the N.C. Department of Transportation last week, Virginia Beach-based Skanska said it thinks the section of Interstate 485 can be open in less than two weeks, though there are some potential hurdles that could further delay the 5.5-mile road's opening.
In its letter, Skanska said it still needs to seal the joints on the concrete, which will take three days. The weather must be dry and the temperature can't be below 40 degrees when the work is being performed.
Skanska also needs two days to stripe ramps and another day to finish striping the highway after the sealing is finished. Installing fencing and guardrail will take another six days.
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Skanska also must complete a punch list of small items requested by the DOT. The contractor also listed other potential problems, such as traffic lights that need to be installed by either the DOT or the county, at Brookshire and W.T. Harris boulevards.
A Skanska spokesman said Friday that the recent rainfalls haven't upset its timeline.
“We anticipated the rain we got yesterday and today,” spokesman Mark Hubbard said Friday. “We are getting really close. Obviously, next week will be really critical.”
The outerbelt will be nearly finished when the northwest segment is completed, and will allow north Mecklenburg residents to connect with I-485 at Interstate 77, and bypass most of the city. This section of I-485 was supposed to open in the spring of 2007.
Skanska contends that much of the delays were due to the DOT dragging its feet on moving utilities and buying land in the road's path. The state has tentatively agreed to grant Skanska 234 days for those and other delays.
The contractor believes it should be given more time and is preparing its final claim against the state.
In early October, Skanska said it planned to open the highway by Oct. 31, weather permitting. Four days before that opening date, Skanska held a press conference and announced it was missing that deadline, in part due to cold and rainy weather, it said.
But for the first three weeks of October, there was less rainfall than usual. The weather was also mild for much of the month.
Since August, the DOT has withheld more than $1.3 million against the contractor in penalties. The state is withholding $10,000 each day the $94 million project is overdue.
Tawana Brooks of the DOT said the state could still assess damages against Skanska, even after the highway opens to traffic. There are some small items that might not be finished, such as planting grass on the side of the road or cleaning out drainage pipes.
The final piece of I-485 – which will connect N.C. 115 to I-85 in northeast Mecklenburg – is scheduled to start construction in 2015, though the DOT has said it could be built sooner.