I75 construction on track
Bridging the gap from the Georgia state line to US 64 is NC Highway 175. The petite, less than four mile stretch of roadway runs alongside the eastern peninsulas of tourism hot spot, Lake Chatuge.
With a majority of the roadway being constructed in the late 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, NC 175 is in the throes of “a much needed and long overdue project,” according to N.C. Department of Transportation Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch.
The $19.735 million project was awarded to Watson Contracting on Feb. 25 with construction activities starting less than two months later. Western North Carolina and north Georgia natives may have noticed clearing measures being taken in the winter of 2018 by the NCDOT Clay County Maintenance Unit.
The reason for these clearings starting early? Bats.
There is what’s called a bat moratorium in the region which temporarily prohibits clearing timber from April 15 to Oct. 15. According to Cherokee Agency Forest Manager David Lambert, this period of time is an annual observation during which time the Indiana Bat, an endangered species, inhabits the area and reproduces.
Due to this unique restriction, the NCDOT cleared trees for the project before it was awarded so that the contractor could begin in spring versus in the fall. As the time frame is now, the completion date for construction is set for Oct. 1, 2021, but the overall completion date is six months later to ensure the growth of vegetation is established post-construction.
Of the 85 rights of way needed to be cleared for the project, 80 claims were settled with five in condemnation.
A common question before the first excavating machine ever arrived on scene is — why is this project needed? Fortunately, there are statistics that can point to that answer.
NC 175 had experienced 45 crashes in just a five-year period from 2010- 2015. This rate, according to Burch, exceeds the statewide average by 57 percent for similar roadways. In addition, traffic is only expected to be on the rise with the growing tourism draw to the area, particularly with the Jackrabbit recreation area’s biking and hiking trails on that highway.
To prepare for the growth of these trails, the project also includes the construction of a left turn lane at the highway’s intersection with Jack Rabbit Road. This will be useful for motorists traveling north from the Georgia line and turning left onto Jack Rabbit Road while freeing up the northbound lane for through traffic.
When asked about the project’s essential purpose, Burch said it has always been aimed at improving safety for motorists and bicyclists by addressing four main roadway issues. The plans include:
• Widening the substandard lane widths from 10 feet to 11 feet.
• Widening the substandard shoulders from 2-4 feet to a total of 8 feet with 5 feet paved.
• Improving the horizontal and vertical alignment of the roadway to current standards.
• Improving sight distances.
Since the late 1930s start to NC 175, very few improvements have been made in those roughly 80 years according to Burch. The last time the road was resurfaced was in the late 1980s and an asphalt surface treatment was applied three years ago.
“Motorists that live and travel on this road frequently are very familiar with the lack of shoulders and the inadequate sight distance along the roadway and at driveways. We have also had multiple fatalities and accidents at the curve near the Georgia State line which was identified as a safety need several years ago,” said Burch.
In addition, Burch said on behalf of the department that the patience of the residents and travelers is highly appreciated.
“The contractor is pursuing the work aggressively in the hopes to deliver this project ahead of schedule. I realize that there will be inconveniences and delays, but we are scheduling the construction activities to lessen the delays during the morning and afternoon peak traffic periods. I am also confident that the residents of the community will be pleased with the final result of this much needed and long overdue project,” said Burch.