BRUNSWICK COUNTY — After double delays, ground will finally break early next year on a long-awaited project to widen 7 miles of N.C. 211 in Brunswick County.
The cost to broaden the road from two to four lanes has significantly jumped since 2019, when construction was originally intended to begin. Once estimated at $121 million, the N.C. Department of Transportation this week awarded a $217.3-million contract to Barnhill Contracting Co. of Rocky Mount.
The uptick in price is likely due to expanding the scope of work, by adding two interchanges, as well as the general rising costs of labor and materials, according to NCDOT spokesperson Andrew Barksdale.
Crews in hard hats could be seen out on the road as early as Jan. 24, 2022.
The swatch of the highway to undergo construction stretches from Midway Road to N.C. 87.
In the end, the project is envisioned to relieve congestion, accommodate future traffic and boost safety along the roadway, which passes the main entryway of St. James and serves as a connector between Southport and Supply. The upgrades should also improve access to Oak Island, making it easier to evacuate in the case of a disaster.
About 23,000 vehicles transverse the route daily, but with these improvements, that number is projected to rise to nearly 40,000 by 2038.
“This is an enormous investment for upgrading this important corridor in Brunswick County,” Chad Kimes, NCDOT’s Division 3 Castle Hayne-based engineer, stated in a press release. “These enhancements will improve highway safety and aid in the tremendous population growth the area is experiencing.”
In addition to adding an extra lane in each direction, medians are planned along with new turn lanes and the two interchanges.
Near Oak Island and St. James, two bridges will carry N.C. 906 over N.C. 211, near the Lowe’s Food of Oak Island (and closer to the island’s “new bridge”). The design incorporates loops and traffic signals to access either highway.
Another overpass, near the up-and-coming Southport Crossings center and Lowe’s Food of Southport (closer to the old bridge), will interchange N.C. 211 and Long Beach Road (N.C. 133) with a bridge and on- and off-ramps.
The plans incorporate the popular “reduced conflict intersections,” configurations of medians and traffic islands developed to cut down on risks of a collision. In the most common design, motorists turning onto the highway have no other option but to turn right. If they want to go the opposite way on the road, the driver will need to continue with the flow of traffic until they reach one of the turn lanes, where they can make a U-turn.
“This maneuver is safer, reducing the risk of T-bone crashes, and is easier for drivers waiting to turn left during congestion,” according to an NCDOT press release. “If they want to go the other direction, they simply go a short distance along N.C. 211 and safely turn around from a dedicated lane.”
During construction, drivers will still be able to travel N.C. 211 in both directions. The contractor will work on one side of the road at a time and maintain a two-way traffic pattern. At times, drivers can expect the occasional lane closures or detour, especially when culverts are replaced and water or sewer lines are relocated.
“This will be a work zone for the next 4.5 years,” spokesperson Barksdale said, “so drivers should expect some delays and be aware of workers in the work zone.”
Once half of the road is widened, traffic will shift onto the new portion while the old section is worked on.
The widening is slated to complete in fall 2026, nearly two decades after NCDOT initiated its development, environmental and engineering studies for the project.
Construction was once scheduled to kick off in 2018 but was officially delayed twice. The first time it was postponed was to incorporate the two interchanges into the project, “which will greatly increase the functionality of NC 211,” Barksdale said.
The second time was a result of funding hardships. In 2019, a slew of projects statewide was pushed back as the department grappled with the unexpected costs of Hurricane Florence recovery, Map Act settlements and snowstorms.
Throughout the past two years, the delays freed up time to relocate the majority of the utilities prior to the contract being awarded, which should reduce conflicts in the long run.
In the future, NCDOT plans to continue the widening of N.C. 211 all the way to U.S. 17. However, the other section is not yet funded in the department’s 10-year plan, known as the State Transportation Improvement Program.
“We hope that will change in the near future and become funded one day,” Barksdale said. “We are focusing on the greatest need first – the section that has the most congestion.”
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