It looks like the orange cones on Interstate 485 in Ballantyne are going to be around a little longer.
Although originally expected to be completed by December, the I-485 widening project likely will not be complete until January and possibly as late as May, said Brady McKenzie, resident engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“We’re working to get all of the lanes open as soon as possible,” McKenzie said. “Obviously it’s not going to be completed in December.”
Design work for the $83.3 million project, which will expand a 9-mile stretch of the highway in south Charlotte, began in fall 2012; construction got underway in spring 2013.
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The road is one of the busiest in the state, according to transportation data, with 135,000 vehicles – 7 percent of which is truck traffic – traveling on it daily.
McKenzie said the main thing left to complete on the expansion project is a second asphalt layer, known as the “final lift.” The layer makes for a smooth ride and seals out water.
He added that crews also are finishing bridge work on the highway.
McKenzie said part of the delay is a stipulation with contractor Lane Construction that paving cannot happen in weather below 50 degrees and that work must be done at night.
He said there haven’t been many nights that meet those temperature standards since the middle of October.
McKenzie said the N.C. DOT also prohibits paving between Dec. 15 and March 15. He said the department hopes to open the lanes before the final road layer is added, which likely will happen in spring.
For motorists like south Charlotte resident Mike Dendinger, the state can’t open all lanes soon enough.
“I think drivers on the south side of town are suffering from construction fatigue,” Dendinger said. “The stress of driving daily on an interstate with marginal – and in some places, no – shoulders or medians takes its toll.”
When N.C. DOT planned the project, it had estimated the work would be finished in 2016; but Lane Construction officials said it could be done by next December, said McKenzie.
The project will add one lane in each direction on the beltway between Interstate 77 and Rea Road. That stretch currently has two lanes in each direction.
The project also will add 22-foot shoulders for future toll lanes, stretching past Rea Road to U.S. 74.
A trio of sound-barrier walls also will be going up along the I-485 inner loop, from the bridge over Little Sugar Creek to the entrance ramp from N.C. 51, along the inner loop west of the entrance ramp from South Boulevard and along the outer loop between U.S. 521 and Elm Lane.
The state also built a bridge from Johnston Road North to the I-485 West inner loop, eliminating the traffic signal that backs up traffic and leads people onto the beltway from Johnston Road North.
That flyover was opened this summer.