Efforts to improve the highway interchange near White Oak Crossing continue to plod along. Garner now anticipates a late-fall start of construction as that estimate marches forward nearly as steadily as time itself.
The plan to upgrade the confluence of White Oak Road, U.S. 70 and I-40 remains central to a developer’s plans to expand the shopping center. Almost a year ago, Garner leaders said they hoped to see shovels in the ground in November – of 2012. Now the town hopes those hopes only miss by a year.
The town awaits action from multiple parties on two steps needed before proceeding to the Department of Transportation for final approval.
Property owners near the construction site must agree to temporary right-of-way and drainage easement considerations. Town planning director Brad Bass said that after receiving documents a month ago, multiple property owners have not gotten around to responding.
“We’re waiting on them to get back to us with either questions or an executed document,” Bass said, adding that he would be making follow-up calls Friday (Aug. 2).
Also, town and commercial developers intending to build on the White Oak/U.S. 70 intersection need to decide whether power lines – which must be moved during construction – will be replaced or moved underground. The latter costs more, a cost that will likely be borne by developers.
After those two steps, the town will submit a right-of-way certification to the Department of Transportation. A week or two later the town could have “authorization to construct” from DOT, which allows for a bidding process. After about a month to collect bids, and the DOT and town will concur with the low bidder and execute contracts before work can begin, another process that could take weeks.
Because the project is expected to take about a year, time could be tight. Dec. 15 is the last day NCDOT would allow paving because of cold temperatures. While the project could in theory get an exemption, there is no guarantee.
“As time moves on that, the schedule starts to move and change as well,” Bass said. “I think we really need to get it started in the fall so we can get it done before next winter.”
He said he expects construction to begin in late-October or November. Months ago he had hoped the project could be started in the summer.
Dividing up the costs
The cost of the project has been estimated in the neighborhood of $5.2 million, Bass said. The Town of Garner expects to spend about $2.6 million, which matches the maximum the federal government would contribute in the cost-share. The state DOT will contribute $250,000, Bass said. The town would administer construction.
Core Properties, which plans to develop the expansion of the shopping hub, has called the project crucial to the development of the area. It will add lanes and improve efficiency to multiple parts of the intersection.
Three turn lanes on U.S. 70 East will have a protected light to turn south onto White Oak Road. Cars exiting southbound I-40 onto U.S. 70 will have a separate protected turn to get to those turn lanes.
Currently, cars merging onto U.S. 70 from I-40 south have about 1,000 feet to slide across an often-busy U.S. 70 to reach left-turn lanes heading toward the shopping center.
The federal government introduced a large share of the delay last September. The Federal Highway Administration determined that the proposed changes added capacity rather than merely improving operations, thanks to extra lanes added to the intersection and a short stretch of U.S. 70.
This distinction caught the town by surprise, and it necessitated an air quality study before federal approval of plans, adding several months to the process.
That had been cleared up by March, with the town setting a goal to start construction over the summer. But procedural steps have since dragged, pushing the process back months.