S.T. Wooten: Setting the pace on I-85 highway project

S.T. Wooten:  Setting the pace on I-85 highway project

Can you provide some background info on the I-85 project? 

Since 2015, we’ve been working on I-85 Rehabilitation Project that encompasses a 21-mile stretch of I-85 from North Carolina’s Vance County to the Virginia state line. This is one of the largest projects our company has constructed; it also included the replacement of seven bridges and rehabilitation of nine bridges. Most of the asphalt for the project has been produced at one of our nearby plants in Henderson, NC. Construction has been headed up by S.T. Wooten Project Manager Matt Davis and Superintendent Mark Wilson.

What has been your biggest challenge on the project?

Originally, I-85 was planned as a five-year project. However, at the request of the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT), we found a way to move up our deadline by a year. As you can imagine, accelerating our timelines like this has created several challenges in planning and execution. However, with the crew’s hard work, things are moving along right on schedule for us to complete the project this year.  

To get ahead of the curve, we’ve had to do some strategic planning and make communication even more of a priority. Those have been key elements in keeping us on track and adjusting our plans when necessary.  

How did plans change with your accelerated timelines? 

With the shift in our timeline, we had to plan for a lot of different construction activities and tasks to be completed at the same time across different sections of the project. To do this effectively, the NCDOT allowed us to open up more areas to work. We created a strategic map with different work zones charted out across the project to improve efficiency and help us manage all the elements happening simultaneously.  

Because the project site is 21 miles long (it takes 20 minutes to drive from one end of the site to the other) it was crucial for us to be in constant contact to ensure we were on the same page and staying on schedule. By having the work zones diagrammed and understanding how things are progressing in each section, we’ve been able to adjust when dealing with other obstacles. 

What are some of the other unanticipated obstacles you’ve faced? 

As it is with any construction project, you have to expect the unexpected. Over the past few years, we’ve dealt with everything from hurricanes to traffic accidents that have caused us to shift course. But, having an understanding of how each work zone across the project fits together, we’ve been able to prioritize the work that needs to get done when something comes up and make sure we don’t get too far behind. 

It really comes down to maintaining focus and working together as a team. Our crews understand that if we fall behind, we could face potential penalties from NCDOT, so they work hard and smart to help us avoid delays. We’ve had 50 Intermediate Contract Time (ITC) deadlines to meet on exit ramps alone and — knock on wood — we haven’t missed one yet. A lot of the credit for that goes to the teamwork and camaraderie that has been built between crew members over the past few years.

Have you used any new or innovative kinds of equipment?

The use of advanced technology has certainly helped us drive quality and efficiency on the I-85 job. One example is robotic controlled asphalt and concrete paving machines, which allow our crews to pave quickly and within ¼-inch tolerance while maintaining rideability on interstate lanes. The pavers are equipped with the Trimble GCS900 automated machine guidance (AMG) system and use the Trimble Total Station -SPS930 setup on control points every 500 feet for guidance.

To improve safety for drivers and crews, we made the I-85 project part of an automated work zone. Sensors have been placed along the road to get data on traffic conditions surrounding the work zone. This information is used to give updates to drivers on traffic conditions, indicate where there are stops ahead and offer alternative driving routes. 

How big of a factor is traffic management on the busy interstate?

It has been a heightened priority with the shift in schedule. In addition to making I-85 part of an automated work zone, we’ve adjusted our plans to accommodate the accelerated timelines. The original plan was to open the interstate up to four lanes each year from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, but to speed up construction, we had to switch gears and keep the lanes more restricted. 

Having fewer lanes open can be frustrating for travelers, but it’s the public that ultimately benefits when construction is completed faster. It also improves safety for everyone since drivers are less likely to weave in and out of traffic when there are only one or two lanes open — so there’s less potential for an accident. 

S.T. Wooten works with NCDOT regularly. Talk about this relationship and the value of communication for healthy partnerships.

Communication is key in everything we do, whether it’s with the NCDOT or between our crewmembers. Working with NCDOT is great because we’ve established a trusted partnership through years of working together on projects. Our teams know how to stay well connected during the duration of construction, whether it’s a minor question about project specifications or collaboration on major changes like we faced with our work on I-85. Maintaining open communication and building that trust over time has helped us to be successful.  

What else needs to be done before the project is complete? 

All our paving and bridge work is complete on I-85, so we just have a few punchlist items remaining before we finish up and apply the permanent road markings. Once state inspections are complete and the project is finished, all lanes of traffic will open up and drivers headed north and south on the interstate will enjoy the new surface. It’s safe to say our crew’s hard work is paying off as we wrap up the final phase of the project and the early finishing date will be welcomed by travelers. 

Any other thoughts you’d like to include?

We are always looking for talent to join our team. Right now, we have several major projects underway in North Carolina, including one we’re gearing up for right now on I-40 in Raleigh. To search for construction jobs with S.T. Wooten and submit an application, visit the careers section on our website

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