Highway construction on track in county

  •  (Madison Mullin • Clay County Progress) Construction along Highway 69 toward the Georgia line is progressing on schedule, according to DOT engineer Andy Russell.
    (Madison Mullin • Clay County Progress) Construction along Highway 69 toward the Georgia line is progressing on schedule, according to DOT engineer Andy Russell.

With two of Clay County’s major highways, N.C. Highway 69 and N.C. Highway 175, undergoing road construction, it seems like a lot of the county has roadwork happening. Even though the roadwork is likely to continue for the next few years, local road construction crews have had pretty good weather lately, so those projects seem to be on track.

“It is very early in construction, but we are anticipating the Highway 69 work to be completed by the Sept. 15, 2023 deadline,” Dot Engineer Andy Russell said. “We have good, aggressive contractors working so the project is actually ahead of schedule.”

Russell, a district engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, provided an update for work done since the Progress last reported in 2019. Trees, vegetation and billboard removals have been completed for Highway 69.

“Billboard relocations are conducted outside of NCDOT Right of Way and is the responsibility of the billboard owner, so we do not monitor relocation status or progress,” Russell explained. “Utility relocations are ongoing. The contractor began roadway construction in areas where there was minimal utility work required. Phases I, II and IV are essentially 100 percent complete. Phase III is approximately 75 percent complete.”

The N.C. 69 project is still on track with the projected budget of $46,327,228.88, as well. Wright Brothers Construction Company of Charleston, Tenn., is the contracted company for the project. “It is still very early in construction,” Russell noted.

He had provided details about the project in the 2019 article. “The main reasons are modernization and safety reasons for the volume of traffic it receives,” Russell said. “N.C. 69 may have had some mobility or congestion pieces, too.”

He said the new highway will be a 4-lane divided roadway. During construction, access will continue to be provided to all businesses along the corridor.

As for N.C. 175, it is also on schedule and falling within its original budget of $19,735,711.

“At this time, final anticipated project costs are projected to be within budget,” Russell said. “We are still anticipating a 2021 project completion of Oct. 1, 2021.”

Construction crews and equipment have been hard at work for more than a year on N.C. 175 which travels south into Hiawassee. In a previous article, Russell shared the reasons for that construction: “The 175 project is modernization for safety reasons. After the project is completed, there will be two travel lanes, each 11 feet wide, with a minimum of 5 feet paved shoulder. The paved shoulder is a recovery lane,” Russell explained.

If a driver needs to dodge an animal or another vehicle which has crossed the center line, having the paved shoulder provides more room to safely do so. Where the road crosses into Georgia, there will be a small transition area.

When asked about other planned DOT projects for Clay County, including widening Highway 64 between Business 64 in Clay County to Highway 141 in Cherokee County and improvements to Business Highway 64, Russell said they have been postponed. “The Department of Transportation has undergone a revenue shortfall over the past few months. The delivery dates of these projects have not been scheduled.” Many of the right-of-way acquisitions for Business 64 were made last year; therefore, that part of the project started prior to the DOT’s decreased income.

An NCDOT press release dated April 21, 2020 explained the agency’s deficit. “As people across North Carolina have taken lifesaving measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, traffic volumes have plummeted, causing at least a $300 million budget shortfall for the N.C. Department of Transportation for this fiscal year ending June 30. Because NCDOT revenue is fully funded through the Motor Fuels Tax, Highway Use Tax and DMV fees, this significant impact has forced the department to notify local governments, stakeholders and the general public that all but about 50 major projects scheduled to start in the next 12 months are delayed. Projects moving forward are funded by GARVEE bonds, BUILD N.C. bonds and federal grants.”