The final two motor vehicle bridges over Business 40 should be open in early February, highway officials said this week, along with the bridge that will carry the new downtown freeway over Brookstown Avenue.
No one is predicting when Business 40 downtown might reopen to traffic, but officials say work on the project remains ahead of schedule, despite the recent spate of rainy weather.
"Trying to predict something now would be throwing a dart at a dartboard," said Larry Shaver, resident engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation here. "The worst thing that could happen would be a huge snow event."
The bridges at Cherry and Marshall street are the only two crossings for drivers that remain unfinished, but both are obviously getting very close: Both bridges have their shiny new green guardrails in place and a fresh concrete surface, although work is still needed to pave the approaches from the existing pavement.
"There's not much left to do other than the paving and the striping," Shaver said. "It's got to be 40 degrees to pave and 50 degrees to put the markings down."
Look below the bridges and you might notice something else:
All of Business 40 downtown has at least its first layer of asphalt.
"Getting that dirt covered up is a huge benefit for paving," Shaver said. "If you get caught in wintertime with dirt, it can take a long time to dry out."
Still, precipitation of any sort slows things down.
"One of the things going on is paving, and you can't pave in the rain," Shaver said.
The Cherry Street bridge closed May 5, while the Marshall Street closed later that month, on May 28.
Both bridges are getting finished about the same time, Shaver said, adding that the general contractor and not a subcontractor took on the replacement of those two bridges.
Workers are also busy constructing ramps near the two bridges as well. When the work is done, Cherry and Marshall streets will be the main interchange between downtown streets and Business 40.
Westbound, drivers going downtown will exit onto Cherry Street, where they can continue north. Eastbound, drivers will exit onto High Street and continue east to Cherry Street if they want to go north. Eastbound drivers heading south can take either Marshall or Cherry streets.
Meanwhile, drivers wanting to go west on Business 40 from downtown can take the ramp that will lead from Marshall Street to the freeway. North side downtown drivers heading east on Business 40 can use Marshall and High streets to get to Cherry Street, where they can drive north a short distance to get to the ramp leading to eastbound freeway lanes.
Although some of the ramp connections at Cherry-Marshall work the same way as they did pre-construction, the ramps themselves are more streamlined and make it easier for drivers to merge onto the freeway.
The place where Brookstown Avenue passes under Business 40 is also almost ready to reopen. Work there was slowed by an unexpected sewer line problem, but that's been fixed and the road should reopen soon as well.
The reopening of Business 40 to traffic is still officially scheduled for sometime in April, when the road will have been closed for 17 months. But incentives in place give the contractors extra money for delivering the road early, and when announced, had officials suggesting the highway could reopen in 14 to 15 months.
Contractors have already missed their maximum payday, which would have come if they had put cars back on the road before the end of 2019.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines famously declared last year that it was possible for Business 40 to reopen as "good Christmas present" — a statement the N.C. Department of Transportation was quick to walk back.
Joines said recently that he was joking with a state highway official that he would call a news conference, after he found out about the timetable for reopening the remaining bridges.
"I will be delighted to get Cherry-Marshall and Brookstown downtown opened up and provide better access to those businesses," Joines said, noting that the impact has been hardest on the businesses south of the work zone.
Highway workers have been doing more than building bridges and putting down asphalt: They've installed lighting and have been putting up new highway signs that feature the redesignated exit numbers for the freeway.
Workers are putting in the concrete barrier that will divide the east- and westbound lanes. There is still brickwork to do, and other tasks to accomplish before the cars can roll, Shaver said.
Even after Business 40 reopens — under the new name of Salem Parkway — the work won't really be done until later in 2020. That's because workers will be building noise walls, constructing the multi-use path beside the freeway, and putting the final touches on the pedestrian bridges.
The prime focus has been getting the cars going again, Shaver said.
Joines and Shaver both said that a discussion has come up about when to celebrate:
"Do you do it when they reopen the road, or wait until the whole project is finished?" Joines said.