Workers lay bricks along walls lining Business 40 near the Church Street bridge in Winston-Salem in mid-November.

Business 40 reopening by Dec. 31?

It isn't happening, state highway officials say.

It was always a long shot, but Pat Ivey, the local division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation, more or less made it official on Tuesday.

"I can pretty much guarantee that it won't open by the end of the year," Ivey said. 

Ivey was saying several weeks ago that chances were diminished for an end-of-year reopening because of the weather, and the weather hasn't gotten a lot better since then. 

Still, officials say that contractors are making good progress on the road and are still optimistic about beating the mid-April contract deadline for putting traffic back onto the downtown freeway.

"We've had some weather, but we've had some good days where we can get asphalt on the ground," said resident engineer Larry Shaver of the N.C. Department of Transportation. "Last year, it snowed in early December and hung around for days. Something like that could affect our schedule greatly."

Unexpected work conditions can affect the schedule too. For example, earlier in November there was a prediction that the Brookstown underpass at Business 40 could be finished around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the underpass, which will go under the new Business 40 near High Street, as before, is obviously not open. 

"When we were working on High Street, the existing sewer line was higher than we thought it was," Shavers said, explaining why the section remains closed. "We had to make some adjustments to the sewer line. Part of the sewer line went under Brookstown, so there was a section of Brookstown we couldn't pave."

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines made a stir last winter when he said during a television interview that Business 40 could reopen in time to give the city a "good Christmas present."

Highway officials were quick to tamp down expectations, although they acknowledged later that there was a Dec. 31 reopening date that would give the contractors their maximum incentive money.

"I don't know that we were ever on board to say we were going to open it by the end of the year," Shaver said. "All the stars would have had to line up perfectly to finish by the end of the year. Doing it by the end of the year means we would have completed it in 13 months."

The shutdown of Business 40 was originally conceived as a two year project, and that was a choice local people endorsed over stretching the project out over six years but keeping the road open all along. By huge margins, folks said to shut the road down and get the work over with.

Business 40 shut down on Nov. 17, 2018, but by then state highway officials were already talking about shortening the shutdown to 14 or 15 months under the incentives that the state was dangling in front of the freeway contractors. Officially, the shutdown was set for 17 months, and that was an improvement over the 20-month closure that led the state to award the contract to Flatiron Constructors Inc. and Blythe Development Co.

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