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‘Big milestone’ as NCDOT awards contract for I-26 Connector through Asheville

A screenshot from an NCDOT visualization of the I-26 Connector project.
A screenshot from an NCDOT visualization of the I-26 Connector project.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has awarded a $1.1 billion contract for the northern section of the I-26 Connector that will run through Asheville. The highway redevelopment project has been planned for decades.

NCDOT awarded the contract to Archer-Wright Joint Venture, a collaboration among Atlanta-based Archer Western Construction, Tennessee-based Wright Brothers Construction Company and Baltimore-based engineering firm RK&K.

The project will create new flyover bridges for I-26 and I-240 traffic west of downtown, freeing up the Capt. Jeff Bowen Bridge for local vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

In Wednesday’s announcement, NCDOT construction engineer Nathan Moneyham called the awarding of the contract “a big milestone” for the project.

“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,” Moneyham said in a statement. “These improvements will address numerous operational issues we all experience when it comes to safety and congestion in this area.”

Two other firms competed for the state contract: Balfour-Beatty Infrastructure, Inc. submitted a $1.3 billion bid, and Flatiron-United-BDC Joint Venture submitted a nearly $1.8 billion bid.

NCDOT said it will work with the Archer-Wright Joint Venture over the next six months to fine-tune the project’s design, with the goal of reducing the total cost. If the amount is not brought down low enough, the contract may be terminated, NCDOT said.

Work on the I-26 Connector project began more than 30 years ago and has involved dozens of meetings with community members, local businesses and elected officials. Two other contracts are expected to be awarded within the next year: One for the southern section of the project, and another for the western section.

“Ultimately, this will benefit not just those that’ll use the interstate corridor traveling through Asheville, but those that live here,” Moneyham said.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.