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Barnhill Contracting Joins Growing Communities

by: Larry Bernstein
Infrastructure needs to expand to keep up with a growing population. The need drives many infrastructure projects, including one in North Carolina. By undertaking the Nashville-Rocky Mount projects, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is readying the area for the expected population growth.
Growing Pains
Nashville and Rocky Mount are a little over 10 miles apart and are in Nash County. The county is about 50 miles northeast of Raleigh, the state capital.

The areas surrounding Raleigh have been experiencing tremendous growth. Growth to the northeast has been the last to arrive, but it is starting to happen. The average daily traffic for the center of the projects, which are adjacent to each other and are in the shape of a ‘T,’ was 12,000 in 2020 and is expected to reach 18,000 in 2040.

To accommodate population growth, two roads Eastern Avenue/Sunset Avenue (at one point, along the road, the name changes) and North Old Carriage Road are being expanded from two to four lanes. The project area on Eastern Avenue/Sunset Avenue is three miles and 1.1 miles on North Old Carriage Road.

In addition to widening the lanes, NCDOT contractors are installing 12 roundabouts. “The roundabouts mean no traffic lights are needed and they are much safer,” says Andrew Barksdale, a Public Relations Officer with the NCDOT.

Another safety feature is the installation of raised median lane, which will have grass and trees, making it easier for pedestrians to cross the streets. Medians also reduce the risk of serious crashes.

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The area where the North Old Carriage Road project is taking place experiences congestion during the morning and afternoon. This is because the road is adjacent to Nash Community College and between two prominent high schools that produce significant traffic.

“Widening the lanes and adding the roundabouts will increase safety and keep traffic flowing at the locations especially in the morning and afternoons when traffic is heaviest,” says Kim Moore, a Resident Engineer for NCDOT.

Both roads also cross prominent thoroughfares in the area. Eastern Avenue/Sunset Avenue crosses I-95 while North Old Carriage Road crosses U.S 64, which leads to Raleigh.

The final aspect of the project is the conversion of the Sunset Avenue Bridge, which crosses over I-95, into an interchange with on and off-ramps. “The city wanted an interchange,” Barksdale explains. The land around the interchange is undeveloped. “The new interchange is expected to improve access to regional mobility and open up economic development in the area.”

Real World Challenges
Businesses across the spectrum have felt the crunch of the supply chain and labor shortage. The construction industry is no different, and these challenges were prevalent on the Nashville-Rocky Mount projects.

“There is a shortage of labor in the construction industry, and the contractor has made great efforts to retain and hire new employees to keep construction on schedule,” Moore says. She adds that when the NCDOT has advertised jobs, the agency has received significantly fewer applicants. “Every area of construction is getting hit.”

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Then, there are the materials shortages and delays. A shortage of reinforced concrete pipe has been particularly impactful on the projects. Barnhill Contracting Co., a local contractor who is serving as the general contractor on the projects, preordered much of the necessary materials. It’s been necessary to order some items in real-time, which has been an issue. The contractor and the department have tried to work around the shortages by substituting materials whenever possible. “It’s helped keep the work moving forward and benefited both projects,” Moore says.

The reinforced concrete pipe comes in different classes based on how far it has to be dug. The team has used different classes or types, if available and appropriate. “This has driven up materials cost, but we are willing to make it as long as it’s reasonable,” Moore says.

A third issue the team has dealt with is due to working in an urban area. Such areas tend to have numerous utilities since there is a mix of schools, businesses and residences. The team needed to relocate above and below-ground utilities before construction could begin. It took a great effort and several months to coordinate the relocations and move a large number of utilities for the two projects.

The team installed box culverts on both projects and used soil nail walls. The nails stabilize the slopes and support excavation at the locations. After installation is finished, it produces a zone of reinforced ground. A Crawler Drill, which is compact, flexible and can be used in tight areas, was used to install the nails.

Keep it Local
Barnhill, which is based out of Rocky Mount, is serving as the general control for both projects, which were awarded separately. They’ve worked with NCDOT on numerous projects to great success. “They do a good job of reviewing plans and thinking proactively ahead to line up supplies and not run into roadblocks,” Moore says. They’re also using multiple local subcontractors, which is a good investment in the area as it helps keep the local economy growing and thriving. It also has practical benefits, as it’s easy to get the subs to the worksite.

This is a design-build contract, which is an alternative approach for construction. A design-build team combines the engineering, right-of-way and construction functions under one manager – a relationship that promotes design innovation and faster project delivery. “I’m really excited that we were able to accelerate these projects by two or three years,” said Gus Tulloss, a state Board of Transportation member from Rocky Mount. “The new interchange in particular will be important for promoting economic development in the region.”

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The projects have a construction budget of just under $121.8 million. Three-quarters of the funding is from the state, and the federal government is paying the remainder. The projects are on budget so far. Moore attributes this to the plans that the team has been able to stick to for the most part and preordering materials.

Construction on the Eastern Avenue/Sunset Avenue project began in the Spring of 2021 and is scheduled to be substantially completed at the end of 2023. The North Old Carriage Road project began in the Spring of 2022. It is also on schedule to be substantially completed in the fall of 2024. “These projects are physically connected, so it will be instrumental to have them completed back-to-back,” says Moore.

When the projects are complete, Nash County roads will be more prepared to handle the needs of the growing population. The two cities, Nashville and Rocky Mount, will be better tied together, unlike now when they are separated by I-95.

The projects will also better serve businesses looking to relocate to the area and provide increased access to the existing businesses. Finally, the projects will make I-95 and U.S. 64 more accessible, ease congestion, and improve mobility.

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