By Michael Alford, Vice President at S.T. Wooten
As temperatures soar and the days get longer, excitement is starting to build for summer vacation. For S.T. Wooten, the focus is on making sure travel dreams don’t turn into nightmares for people driving on I-95 as the company makes progress on its 18-mile road-widening project to help improve traffic congestion between the cities of Dunn and Fayetteville in North Carolina.
Working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), S.T. Wooten is adding two lanes in both directions of the stretch – bringing it to four lanes each way in between exits 55 and 72. Crews are constructing or replacing twelve bridges as part of the upgrades, along with the installation of roundabouts to eliminate stop conditions at some interchanges. A new loop is also being built to connect I-95 North to NC-295 South.
Thanks to the hard work from crews, approximately 82% of the project has been completed. Being strategic in planning and having the right people on the job has helped keep things driving toward a 2025 finish line.
People make the project
As the biggest project in S.T Wooten’s 70-year history, the $450 million I-95 job requires numerous crews from nearly all operating divisions, along with approximately 25 subcontractors. There are generally more than 150 company employees and nearly 100 pieces of equipment on the job each day, along with subcontractor resources as well.
Project Manager Ronald Brock has a unique perspective on the scope from his longtime experience with the company:
“I have been with S.T. Wooten 24 years, and the largest road construction project I have worked on before this was a much smaller one at Camp Lejeune,” he said. “We had 15 subcontractors, 3 S.T. Wooten crews, and 12 excavators working on any given day.”
While the I-95 project is expansive, it’s no longer an outlier for the company. S.T. Wooten is working with the NCDOT on a similar project nearby on I-40 in Raleigh that shares many of the same characteristics. Leaders and crew members are involved with both projects, which helps to ensure that lessons learned on each don’t go left unheard.
“Teams have been in constant contact, sharing news and developments that help us improve and stay efficient on both projects,” said Brock. “Crews are also rotating schedules for day and night work to help teams stay fresh.”
Planning makes perfect
Traffic has remained the biggest challenge for crews on I-95. The stretch sees an average daily traffic volume of 60,000 vehicles as one of the major north-south roads for the entire east coast.
Similar to the I-40 project in Raleigh, crews have several hauling and lane closure restrictions that they must work around. A juggling act at times, significant planning is required to address hurdles and make sure each day is productive:
* Every Monday, the management team and representatives from each division get together to plan out a 5-week “looking ahead” work schedule.
* In the office, plans are taped to almost every wall. Leaders review these plans every day and build the work schedule.
* S.T. Wooten’s management and design teams meet every Thursday with its design partner agency, RK&K. The collaboration helps project leaders quickly address any project design issues and changes.
* Every other Wednesday, the team meets with NCDOT representatives to keep them informed of progress and upcoming schedules.
Brock points out that while there is an appropriately large team involved with the project, it’s also a young team. The core leadership team members each have 20+ years of experience, but many of the managers have fewer than six years of experience.
“With such a large project, it’s a great chance to not only gain planning and coordination experience, but also provide mentorship in many areas,” said Brock.
A balancing act
A number of traffic shifts have been implemented to help get work completed on the bridges and roundabouts while keeping traffic open for the public through the I-95 work zone. Traffic shifts and strategic shutdowns have helped crews carry out more than 50% of the bridge work with six completed and opened up so far.
“In a 75-day period, crews constructed 2 new roundabouts on either side of a bridge at Godwin-Falcon Road,” said Brock. “This meant two successful 35-day shutdowns of both the northbound ramps and then the southbound ramps, respectively, to help get the work done efficiently.”
Crews have also made progress with paving, typically having two foremen and two crews working most days along with concrete crews when necessary. To date, the team has placed 645,000 tons of asphalt, moved 1,533,355 cubic yards of dirt, laid over 50,000 linear feet of pipe, and put down 1,125,000 tons of ABC stone for the project.
For the laydown, crews are placing 12 inches of Class IV aggregate (1,033,462 tons) in conjunction with a geosynthetic fabric to stabilize the subgrade, 10 inches of aggregate base course (690,000 tons), and 12.5 inches of asphalt (1.5 million tons) to construct the new lanes along with a minimum of six inches of asphalt overlay on the existing travel lanes. There is also 50,000 cubic yards of concrete being poured for bridge construction, box culverts, concrete barrier rail, and curb and gutter.
Two nearby plants provide asphalt for the project. Roughly 80,000 tons have come from S.T. Wooten’s Clayton plant, which is situated near the I-40/NC-42 interchange. The remaining asphalt will come from another S.T. Wooten plant in Benson. This plant was manufactured by Intrame with some fresh design features, including a single wagon silo system that is helping increase efficiency in production.
Strength in numbers
It’s not surprising that challenges have emerged on the I-95 project considering its sheer size and scope. In addition to traffic volumes, crews have had to deal with bad weather, the pandemic and other factors that can cause complications. Communication and teamwork have helped crews stay the course through obstacles.
S.T. Wooten’s success on the I-95 project so far can be attributed to the leadership of project managers and hard work from crew members onsite every day.
“With all the work done so far, I want to give a big shout out to all the employees that have worked on this project,” said Brock. “Without them this would not be possible.”
The buy-in from everyone in construction, from crew members to contractors, has helped weather storms and manage the unique dynamics of such a big project. Once construction has been completed on I-95, it will be a finish line that the public is grateful for and that crews should be proud of.
“I can only hope that someday, everyone who has touched the project can ride through this section of I-95 and be as proud of their work and what has been achieved with this job as I am.