Interstate 795 in Eastern North Carolina, known for years as one of the state's worst road-building blunders, now is being honored as the smoothest asphalt highway in the United States.
The state Department of Transportation spent $12 million in 2009 to dig out crumbling asphalt on the 18-mile freeway between Goldsboro and Wilson, and to replace it with thicker layers of better stuff. DOT design errors were blamed for making the original pavement too thin and too weak when I-795 was built in 2003.
S.T. Wooten Corp. of Wilson won a $5.9 million contract to rebuild an 8-mile section of I-795, and now its repair work has won the top award from a national industry group.
The National Asphalt Pavement Association gave Wooten and DOT its 2011 Sheldon G. Hayes Award for excellence in asphalt pavement construction in January. Wooten officials will celebrate the honor with DOT engineers today at a state Board of Transportation meeting in Raleigh.
The road was examined by pavement experts from Auburn University after it was rebuilt in 2009, and scrutinized for its smoothness by more experts again last year.
"This is the highest asphalt pavement award that there is, and it's highly sought after, and there's a lot of competition," said Christie Barbee of Raleigh, executive director of the Carolina Asphalt Pavement Association. "It's not as simple as dumping something black out there and then rolling over it."
Wooten, the original contractor, was absolved of blame for building the original road to DOT's faulty specifications. A company executive said Wooten was proud to be recognized for the repairs.
"We always strive to put down the best quality of asphalt mix, and this fortunately turned out to be the best one we've ever done," said Reade Dawson, who heads Wooten's asphalt division.
The crew members who did the work were all 20-year veterans, Dawson said. DOT accepted Wooten's suggestion to change some specifications in how the layers were applied, and the change helped produce a smoother road, he said.
Wendi O. Johnson, a DOT engineer who oversees construction in six counties, had warned DOT officials in 2003 that the I-795 pavement would not hold up under the pounding of big trucks. Her arguments were vindicated after experts agreed that the DOT design was a mistake.
She predicted Tuesday that local drivers actually will notice what a nice ride it is now - after DOT posted signs this week marking I-795 as the "smoothest road in the nation."
Thermal imaging during the repair work showed a very consistent temperature all through the hot asphalt as it was being laid on the road, she said, and that made for good dense pavement.
"This particular pavement, when you look at it, it is amazing how uniform it is, and the joints are really tight," Johnson said Tuesday. "There is some discernible quality that a person who looks at pavements a lot would see."