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Projects in North Carolina and Virginia Win Regional America’s Transportation Awards

by: Jessica Hoover
East End Connector, I-885
East End Connector, I-885
East End Connector, I-885
East End Connector, I-885
Interstate 95 Northbound Variable Speed Limits
Interstate 95 Northbound Variable Speed Limits
Interstate 95 Northbound Variable Speed Limits
Interstate 95 Northbound Variable Speed Limits
Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge
Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge
Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge
Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge
Flood Warning System
Flood Warning System
Flood Warning System
Flood Warning System
Four state department of transportation (DOT) projects in North Carolina and Virginia won regional awards in the 2023 America’s Transportation Awards competition, created by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Quality of Life/Community Development, Operations Excellence, and Best Use of Technology & Innovation.

“These trailblazing projects from the southern region of the United States play a vital role in bolstering safety, advancing mobility, responding during natural disasters, and creating more multi-modal options for all communities,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “Now in its 16th year, the America’s Transportation Awards commemorate the best of our industry and highlight the critical work that our state DOTs accomplish from coast to coast.”

Nineteen projects in the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) region were nominated by DOTs for this year’s competition. The following four projects in the Construction area were winners of regional America’s Transportation Awards.

East End Connector, I-885 (Quality of Life/Community Development, Large Category)
North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) completion of the East End Connector in 2022 marked a significant turning point for Durham's transportation infrastructure. Linking the Durham Freeway (N.C. 147) and U.S. 70, the $160 million connector redirects traffic away from local streets and offers a stoplight-free route between Interstates 85 and 40.

Along with linking the two highways, the East End Connector constructed a new crossing over a major railroad corridor. This improvement has greatly enhanced mobility in the area by eliminating a previous barrier. The project also included an interchange at Carr Road on U.S. 70, as well as bicycle, pedestrian, and improved safety benefits.

The East End Connector project encompassed almost every aspect of major heavy civil highway construction, including concrete and asphalt paving, 16 bridges (including flyovers, railroad bridges, a scissor bridge, and four rehabilitated bridges), four different types of walls, and four culverts.

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The completion of the East End Connector is expected to reduce congestion on the Durham Freeway and U.S. 15-501, easing the burden on local roads like Duke, Gregson, Mangum, and Roxboro streets. Additionally, it aims to boost economic development in the region, improving access for travel and the transportation of goods between the counties north of Durham and key employment and retail centers.

Interstate 95 Northbound Variable Speed Limits, Mile Markers 115-130 (Operations Excellence, Small Category)
Interstate 95 is a crucial north-south route for travel and freight on the East Coast, but it has been prone to accidents when northbound vehicles encounter sudden traffic backups due to congestion and lane closures. To reduce recurring accidents and keep traffic flowing in and around Fredericksburg, the Virginia Department of Transportation has introduced variable speed limits on a 15-mile stretch of I-95 northbound.

This $10 million project features variable speed limits ranging from 35 to 70 miles per hour, accompanied by dynamic message boards that inform drivers of the current speed limit. A total of 48 variable speed limit signs are placed every half-mile to one mile along the project corridor.

The system operates based on real-time traffic conditions. Vehicle detectors collect data on traffic speed and volume, which is then analyzed by a software program. When traffic approaches potentially hazardous conditions, like high volume and excessive speed, the speed limit is gradually lowered. Once traffic flow stabilizes, the speed limit reverts to the maximum speed.

Since implementation, this technology has effectively reduced instances of high-speed driving on I-95 and decreased severe crashes resulting in injuries or fatalities by more than 20%.

Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge (Operations Excellence, Medium Category)
To enhance one of North Carolina's most vulnerable roadways, NCDOT embarked on the construction of the Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge. The $155 million bridge spans across Pamlico Sound, linking the southern end of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to the village of Rodanthe while bypassing a segment of N.C. 12. N.C. 12 serves as the primary lifeline for numerous communities scattered across the Outer Banks region, a string of sandy barrier islands arching beyond the mainland into the Atlantic Ocean.

Prior to this project, the stretch between the southern portion of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and northern Rodanthe had been extremely vulnerable to ocean overwash, coastal erosion, and shoreline advancement. Storms would routinely render this roadway impassable for days, leaving eight communities reliant on ferry services for access to essential resources, jobs, education, and health care.

The new 2.4-mile Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge provides the community with a highway protected from storms while alleviating traffic congestion. The elevated structure carries N.C. 12 above the waters of Pamlico Sound, diverting the route from its previous course along the sandy barrier islands. Additionally, the project involved the removal of 1.67 miles of roadway within the wildlife refuge, reinstating the surrounding area as a critical wildlife habitat.

By extending into Pamlico Sound, the project minimizes its impact on sensitive environmental zones, the ocean and sound shorelines of the islands, and the Rodanthe community. The Rodanthe “Jug Handle” Bridge has established a reliable transportation link for residents and visitors, serving as a vital connection point for remote areas of North Carolina.

Flood Warning System (Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Small Category)
In 2018, Hurricane Florence’s catastrophic flooding left a trail of destruction across North Carolina, crippling the state's transportation infrastructure. The disaster closed 2,500 roads and major interstates for a week, including the destruction of U.S. 421 and significant damage to all primary routes leading to Wilmington. During this event, NCDOT lacked a flood warning system to assess the transportation network's vulnerability to flooding.

Recognizing the need for improved flood preparedness, NCDOT developed a new flood warning system to enhance transportation resilience and contribute to the safety of North Carolina's residents and visitors. The system relies on a network of 400 river and stream gauges, covering nearly 3,000 miles of state-maintained roads, primarily east of Interstate 95.

For the first time, the flood warning system equips NCDOT with the capability to analyze, map, and communicate real-time flood risks to roads, bridges, and culverts. This information is disseminated to NCDOT maintenance staff, enabling them to respond swiftly to flooded roads and damaged culverts. Additionally, it serves as a vital resource for local emergency management officials and the general public, who can access timely weather-related closures through the department's website.

Next Phase of the Competition
The three highest-scoring projects from each regional America’s Transportation Awards competition (a total of 12 projects) will continue on to compete for two national awards, the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. In November, AASHTO will reveal the winners at its annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Top 12 projects in alphabetical order by state are:

  • Florida Department of Transportation’s Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
  • Georgia Department of Transportation’s Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
  • Illinois Department of Transportation’s Jane Byrne Interchange
  • Iowa Department of Transportation’s Adult Changing Facilities in Iowa Rest Areas
  • Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Mayfield Tornado Response
  • Maine Department of Transportation’s The Veranda Plan
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Flood Warning System
  • Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Emergency Fern Hollow Bridge Replacement Project
  • South Dakota Department of Transportation’s U.S. Highway 83 Corridor Improvements and Reconstruction
  • Texas Department of Transportation’s Mobility35 Initiative to Address Homelessness Program
  • Utah Department of Transportation’s Teamed-Up for Transit: UDOT and UTA Partner to Improve Mobility for Local Community
  • Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Lamoille Valley Rail Trail
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