I-485 bridge may open this fall

The contractor building the latest segment of Interstate 485 hopes to finish the project by the end of September, and said it plans to open the nearby Alexanderana Road bridge over I-77 by the start of school in late August.

The six-lane project in northwest Mecklenburg from N.C. 16 to a major interchange at I-77 and N.C. 115 has been plagued with problems and was supposed to be finished in the spring of 2007.

Virginia Beach-based Skanska said it has been working six-day weeks and some nights to finish the 5.5-mile section, and that it should meet the revised opening date if weather is good.

“To get this done by September – it's expensive,” said Mark Hubbard, a Skanska spokesman. “They are putting in extra resources to finish.”

Skanska said almost all of the concrete has been poured, and their construction vehicles can now drive the entire segment of expressway. Work remains on shoulders and ramps, and Skanska still needs to install signs before the road will open to the public.

The contractor and the N.C. Department of Transportation have been feuding over who is to blame for the project being tardy. Skanska contends that it couldn't begin surveying as planned in December 2003 because there were huge chunks of land the state hadn't yet acquired. Another hurdle was a delay in moving utilities that were in the road's path.

It has requested nearly $9 million in compensation for the $94 million project.

The state admitted to some delays, though it contends they weren't as severe as Skanska claims.

“We are still in communication,” said Skanska project manager Joe Raynor. “Hopefully we'll receive a fair hearing on our claims.”

The I-485 segment will help connect Mecklenburg to one of the fastest-growing parts of Charlotte, which includes offices and commercial development surrounding Northlake Mall.

The Alexanderana Road bridge is being done as part of the I-485 project. Alexanderana connects Mount Holly-Huntersville Road north of Northlake Mall to the Huntersville area near North Mecklenburg High School and Eastfield Road.

When this segment of I-485 is finished, there will be only one piece of the outerbelt left to be built – a stretch between I-77 and I-85 in northeast Charlotte. That stretch of the loop isn't scheduled to begin construction until 2015, and probably wouldn't be finished until 2018.

Also scheduled to begin in 2015: A widening of I-485 in south Charlotte, between South Boulevard and Johnston Road.

Virginia Beach-based Skanska has blamed the N.C. Department of Transportation for not getting the site ready for construction.