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Highway project ahead of schedule

Barnhill Contracting Co. workers build a bridge over a low-lying section of U.S. Highway 17. Barnhill was awarded the current phase of the $21 million project. Work is slated to be completed by November 2013. (WDN Photo/Sara Cowell)

The massive, six-year-long construction project that created the U.S. Highway 17 bypass around Washington is on track to finish earlier than scheduled.

“Completion date is November of 2013,” said Shawn Mebane, N.C. Department of Transportation project manager for the current phase of the bypass project. “Right now, we’re ahead of schedule. We should be at 23 percent and are about 31.5 percent (completed).”

Barnhill Contracting Co. is taking a two-lane section of U.S. 17 and making it a four-lane highway, a continuation of the work that built bridges over N.C. Highway 33, the Tar River, U.S. Highway 264 and 15th Street in Washington.

The project, which began in May 2011, takes a stretch of U.S. 17 from Cherry Run Road to north of N.C. Highway 171 and makes it new again.

The work continues from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, with occasional lane closures caused by laying drainage pipes (cross-lines) under the road, tying in water lines and material delivery to the site, said Mebane.

“We’ll be switching traffic here shortly, from Wharton Station Road to the north end of the project,” explained Mebane. “We’ll do cross-lines on the old section, bring it up to better standards, including milling and resurfacing.”

In early July, the construction company will begin the removal and replacement of the Old Ford Swamp bridge, said Mebane, who indicated that traffic would not be disrupted since a roadway running parallel with the existing structure will be open to drivers.

Also in the project’s future plans is an “S” curve built at the north end of the project to get vehicles off the existing road and onto the new section north of N.C. 171. The “S” construction is intended to slow traffic to a recommended 25 mph.

Though seven-days delay was built into the contract for this phase of the project, it’s unlikely the company will need them — even Hurricane Irene had minimal effect on the work schedule. Mebane has been pleasantly surprised by the headache-free nature of the project.

“This is has been a piece of cake so far,” he laughed. “I’m almost scared to talk about it — it’s been a success on all accounts.”

For more information about construction on U.S. 17, visit www.ncdot.gov/projects/us17bypass/.