The long-delayed widening of N.C. 268 East in and near North Wilkesboro is now scheduled for completion in mid-December, said Trent Beaver, N.C. Department of Transportation Division 11 construction engineer.

Beaver shared this information in an update on the 3.6-mile project at the June 16 Wilkes County commissioners meeting.

“I wish I could tell you the project is almost complete, which it should be. It is about 90% complete,” said Beaver, speaking from his office on video in the remote meeting.

“We have not been pleased with progress on the project and have discussed this with the contractor on multiple occasions in the last few years.”

The contractor is Burnsville-based Young & McQueen Grading Co., which started work in the spring of 2015. The company’s successful bid for the job was $25.9 million.

Work has been underway on the entire length simultaneously, from the N.C. 18 intersection in North Wilkesboro to the Airport Road intersection.

Beaver said DOT officials emphasized the importance of completing some portion of the project when they met with Young & McQueen representatives about a week and a half earlier.

“They’ve been working on multiple areas of the project and just not making a lot of progress on any of them,” he said.

“Although we cannot direct their operations, we strongly encouraged them to break the project up into segments and pursue it sequentially from the beginning at the five-lane section (in town) and work east.”

Beaver said the contractor agreed to do this and presented a concept that included months when different segments will be completed, but no details.

Young & McQueen said it will start with completing the section from N.C. 18 to Legion Drive by the end of July. “Based on past experience with this contractor, that sounds very aggressive to me, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

“We told them we want them to concentrate on that five-lane, commercial segment and get it done as fast as possible.”

Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, said business owners along that section of N.C. 268 in North Wilkesboro would be appreciative.

The next segment, from Legion Drive to the bridge over Mulberry Creek, is to be completed by the end of September.

The final segment, from Mulberry Creek to Airport Road, is to be completed by the end of October.

Beaver said each segment would be completed to the point where the final layer of asphalt is poured.

He said that with painting highway stripes, installing signage and other final tasks, the entire project would be completed in mid-December.

Commissioner Keith Elmore asked Beaver if he agreed that it has taken an extraordinarily long time to finish the N.C. 268 project. Beaver said it has taken longer to complete than necessary and the contractor agrees.

The completion date in Young & McQueen’s contract with the state is March 27, 2020.

Beaver said that if financial penalties for being late haven’t started accruing for Young & McQueen, they should start soon. He said the dollar amount in penalties wouldn’t be calculated until after the project is completed.

Delays increased DOT’s costs related to inspections and other aspects of administering the project, he added.

In January, Beaver said completion of the project had been pushed back to late summer 2020. When he updated the North Wilkesboro commissioners on the project in August 2019, Beaver said completion was expected in mid-summer 2020.

During the meeting on June 16, he said that the contractor was first delayed by having to work around power poles for about a year because utility companies were late in moving them.

He said wet weather was partly to blame. “Normally you have a dry year and then a wet year. It kind of alternates back and forth but here we are starting on our third wet year.”

In the last two months, Young & McQueen was delayed by two crews having to leave the job and quarantine when at least three members of each crew tested positive for COVID-19. “One was the curb and gutter crew, which is very critical at this point,” said Beaver.

N.C. 268 East won’t be any wider from the N.C. 18 intersection to the Fairplains Road intersection, but curbs and gutters are being added. Beaver said there will still be a stoplight at the Fairplains Road intersection.

From the Shaver Street intersection to the Fairplains Road intersection, N.C. 268 East will have five lanes with a center turn lane.

From just east of the Fairplains Road intersection to the Airport Road intersection, N.C. 268 East will have a raised concrete median between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

There will be breaks in the median at the intersections of Flint Hill, Vista, Beaumont and Airport roads. There will be bulb outs that allow for truck U-turns for eastbound traffic just east of Blevins Building Supply and for westbound traffic at the Fairplains Road intersection.

The project includes a sidewalk along the south side of N.C. 268 East the entire length in town to the Flint Hill Road intersection and on the north side from the Temple Street intersection to the Flint Hill Road intersection.

The Town of North Wilkesboro is sharing in the cost of the sidewalks.

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