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North Carolina DOT Awards Contract for I-26 Connector North Section

ASHEVILLE, NC — The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has awarded a design-build contract for the planning, design, and construction of the northern section of the I-26 Asheville Connector following decades of planning, discussion, design, public input, and official proclamations.

The design-build team, Archer-Wright Joint Venture, pairs Archer Western Construction and Wright Brothers Construction Company with lead engineering firm RK&K. The Archer-Wright JV will be responsible for constructing a new network that stretches from Haywood Road across the French Broad River to U.S. 19/23/70 by Broadway Street, and Riverside Drive from Hill Street to Broadway Street. Over the next six months, NCDOT and Archer-Wright JV will work on designs to optimize the construction plan and reduce the cost for the project.

This section of the I-26 Connector will transform vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian access to and through downtown Asheville. Construction of this section will remove interstate traffic from the Capt. Jeff Bowen bridges, allowing for new multi-modal connections and safer interchanges with local roads.

The Bowen bridges currently carry I-26 and I-240 across the French Broad River just west of downtown. Right now, this section of freeway does not meet interstate design standards. Construction of the new section of the I-26 Connector will place I-26 and I-240 traffic on a new structure across the French Broad River that meets interstate standards, allowing for the Bowen bridges to serve local traffic and provide major pedestrian and bicycle access to and from downtown. These aspects of the project will be retained as the project is refined.

“The main features in this north section of the connector will be a new interchange at Patton Avenue, a new bridge over the French Broad River, and a new bridge at Broadway Street,” said Nathan Moneyham, NCDOT Division 13 Construction Engineer. “These improvements will address numerous operational issues we all experience when it comes to safety and congestion in this area.”

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All three bids received for the northern section came in higher than the acceptable range of the NCDOT’s engineer’s estimate. Since then, NCDOT worked closely with all three design-build teams to get their best and final bids on the project:

  • Archer-Wright JV: $1.15 billion
  • Balfour-Beatty Infrastructure, Inc.: $1.34 billion
  • Flatiron-United-BDC Joint Venture: $1.76 billion
Optimization and Refinement Process
As part of the new bids, the teams were required to submit plans for a unique Optimization and Refinement (O&R) process that will allow for significant cost reduction after the award of the project. This addition was not expected to lower the initial bids for the project.

The upcoming six-month-long O&R process will allow NCDOT and Archer-Wright JV to collaboratively find scope reductions, construction efficiencies, and innovations that retain the necessary functions of the project while bringing the cost more in line with planned estimates. NCDOT will work with and compensate the design-build team during the O&R period as both parties work to mitigate risks and create a more efficient and optimally priced project.

At the end of the O&R period, a new contract amount will be agreed upon, and work on the final design and construction of the project can begin. In the event that enough cost reductions are not identified, the contract may be terminated, and a new procurement process will be determined.

Additional Section Contracts to Come
The entirety of the I-26 Connector — from Exit 44 on I-40 to the new interchange with Broadway — will be a median-divided freeway, accessible only by interchanges. The contract for the southern section on I-40 from the Smokey Park Highway interchange to the I-26 interchange, should be awarded later this year. The third contract, for the western section from I-26 up to Haywood Road and improvements to Brevard and Amboy roads, is currently scheduled to be awarded in 2025.

The Connector project has been decades in the making. Since 1989, NCDOT has held numerous meetings with community leaders, local interest groups, business organizations, and affected business owners and neighborhood groups.

“This is a big milestone because we now have the opportunity to work directly with Archer-Wright to identify and evaluate ways to reduce project costs so that the project can be delivered,” Moneyham said. “Ultimately, this will benefit not just those that’ll use the interstate corridor traveling through Asheville, but those that live here.”

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