Unique $1.1B Conditional Contract Awarded for I-26 Asheville Connector

A design-build team has been chosen for the first section of the I-26 Asheville Connector that will direct the interstate away from downtown to improve local traffic flow as well as increase bike and pedestrian access.

A unique contract currently set for $1.1 billion was conditionally awarded to a joint venture of Archer Western Construction and Wright Brothers Construction Company with lead engineering firm RK&K.

The contract is unique because the design-build team and the N.C. Department of Transportation will undergo a six-month process to reduce the costs of the project. At the end of the so-called “optimization and refinement” period, a new contract amount will be agreed upon, or if a reduced price can’t be agreed upon, NCDOT could terminate the contract.

“This is a big milestone because we now have the opportunity to work directly with Archer-Wright to identify and evaluate ways to reduce project costs so that the project can be delivered,” says Nathan Moneyham, NCDOT Division 13 construction engineer.

Unique Contract

The O&R process came about after bids on February 20 for the connector came in higher than NCDOT’s acceptable range. The agency had estimated the cost to be $915.8 million, according to Asheville Watchdog.

The agency then worked will all three bidders “to get their best and final bids.” The bidders also had to include plans for an O&R process “for significant cost reduction after the award of the project.”

The resulting rebid May 7 was as follows:

  • Archer-Wright JV – $1,147,238,700
  • Balfour-Beatty Infrastructure Inc. – $1,337,067,240.37
  • Flatiron-United-BDC JV – $1,760,701,021

With the Archer-Wright JV being the low-bidder, NCDOT says it will work with the team to “find scope reductions, construction efficiencies and innovations that retain the necessary functions of the project while bringing the cost more in line with planned estimates.”

NCDOT adds that the JV will be compensated during the O&R process.

The process has been used in other states, but it appears this is the first time it’s been used in North Carolina, according to Smith Anderson, an N.C.-based law firm. 

The Project

The contract is for the north section of the I-26 connector, the first of three phases for the project that will result in a median-divided freeway from Exit 44 on I-40 to a new interchange at Broadway Street.

The north section will stretch from Haywood Road across the French Broad River to U.S. 19/23/70 by Broadway Street, and Riverside Drive from Hill Street to Broadway Street.

It will involve removing I-26 and I-240 traffic from the Capt. Jeff Bowen bridges, which no longer meet interstate standards. A new bridge structure will be built across the French Broad River that meets interstate standards, NCDOT says. The Bowen bridges will then “serve local traffic and provide major pedestrian and bicycle access to and from downtown.”

A new interchange will also be built at Patton Avenue and a new bridge at Broadway Street.

As for the other sections, NCDOT expects to award the contract for the southern part on I-40 from the Smokey Park Highway interchange to the I-26 interchange later this year.

The third contract, for the western section from I-26 up to Haywood Road and improvements to Brevard and Amboy roads, is currently scheduled to be awarded in 2025.