LUMBERTON — Following multiple false starts, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is almost ready to turn the ignition on its diverging diamond interchange at Exit 22 in Lumberton.
The department plans to debut the final traffic pattern for motorists in September, although other work, such as landscaping will continue for several more months. The new traffic pattern was previously scheduled to take effect in November before it was pushed back to March and then again to April. After that, a DOT official said he would no longer give a completion date to this newspaper until he was confident it could be achieved.
The $12.6 million project has suffered numerous delays since construction began on Oct. 1, 2012. Michael Parker, the department’s resident engineer, says the entire project — including signage and landscaping — should be completed by early 2016.
“The only thing we’re lacking now is some signal work and some paving,” he said.
Crews have already extended the length of on-ramps connected to the bridge and are adding lanes to off-ramps. Motorists should expect intermittent night closings as workers put finishing touches on the project.
Since the interchange was first announced in August 2012, its completion date has been changed multiple times. The department says Devere Construction Company, the Michigan contractor handling the project, gave “overly aggressive dates” that couldn’t be met.
The company has been removed from the bidder’s list for DOT projects and $1,500 is being withheld from it each day, Parker said.
“We’re making steps and we’re working on the goal … We can’t sacrifice quality for speed,” Parker said.
Parker said DOT plans to notify residents five days before the switch to the new traffic pattern and will post information on its website about the interchange as well as open a message board.
The work has caused long lines of traffic for motorists trying to cross Interstate 95 from Lumberton to reach destinations such as Robeson Community College, Uncle George’s restaurant, Bojangles or Gardens of Faith cemetery, and also for southbound I-95 traffic trying to access Fayetteville Road.
The owners of Uncle George’s, as one example, has complained that the work has been devastating for her business by making it difficult for patrons to get to the restaurant.
But the interchange is expected to improve safety by allowing free-flowing turns when entering and exiting I-95. It will provide “better sight distance at turns, which results in fewer crashes,” according to utility bill inserts released by the DOT.
The design allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road, while pushing high volumes of traffic through an intersection without increasing the number of lanes and lights.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5771 or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley. Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.