Kannapolis council opposes state’s I-85 plans

  • Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 12:58 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 9:40 a.m.

KANNAPOLIS — Kannapolis City Council members said Monday they’re not happy with the state’s plans to radically redesign three Interstate 85 interchanges that bring traffic into the city.

At the first council meeting since the plans were announced, city officials said the state hasn’t produced data to justify the changes.

But officials, business leaders and residents will have another chance to voice their concerns.

Tonight at 6 p.m., a community meeting will be held at the Kannapolis Train Station, 201 S. Main St.

Grant Rader, local citizen and spokesman for a group of residents opposed to the plans, said N.C. Department of Transportation officials are slated to attend.

He encouraged as many citizens as possible to be there, and — in his comments to the board — encouraged elected officials to do so as well.

Plans call for several major changes to Kannapolis’ Interstate 85 accesses.

At Lane Street, exit 63, a stoplight will be removed and three roundabouts, or traffic circles, will be used to control traffic entering and exiting the highway.

One will be placed at either end of a new overpass crossing the interstate, while a third is planned for the intersection of Lane Street and Turkey Road.

According to the current preliminary plans, Planning Director Wilmer Melton told council members, those roundabouts will be 60 feet in diameter and paved over with solid concrete.

Melton said he’s asking for those to be landscaped, instead.

Citizens in the Forest Brook community have already raised concerns over plans to route a new ramp at exit 60, Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, along what’s now a gravel road on the edge of their development.

That plan will require several houses to be demolished and, critics say, will leave the development uninsulated from highway sound.

The plan would also impact the Lowe’s Home Improvement store and adjacent businesses; the proposal shows all three current accesses being closed, replaced by a single entrance.

Finally, the U.S. 29 interchange between Kannapolis and Concord would be totally redesigned, replacing the cloverleaf with a new kind of interchange called a diverging diamond.

Traffic would flow over the new bridge on the opposite sides of the road from usual, a design engineers say allows more cars to move through the interchange.

According to published reports, before 2009 there were no such interchanges in the United States.

So far, Melton said, transportation officials have not backed up their designs with data to explain why these are the best options.

At recent public information sessions in Rowan and Cabarrus counties, Department of Transportation officials have said these designs are best suited to handling the volume of traffic expected to be using the roads during the next 20 years of growth.

Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs expressed a different view.

“I think this is bad planning, all around, and they ought to reconsider,” McCombs said.

Of exit 60, McCombs said, “This is the first time I have ever seen an interstate highway that has a commercial enterprise in the middle of the ramp.

Melton said that one of the reasons for the design is that the exit is so close to the southbound entrance to the nearby rest area.

He said that engineers felt drivers might be confused by the current design.

McCombs countered that it might be better to get rid of the rest area than to create the design as planned.

Melton said engineers were “also adamant” that roundabouts were the best option for Lane Street.

But Councilman Darrell Hinnant said he had concerns, having driven through interchanges where traffic crossing the interstate is much slower than cars coming into the circle from the highway.

“I think it’s an accident waiting to happen,” Hinnant said. “I am adamantly opposed to the roundabouts.”

And, Hinnant said, the big rigs that use the Pilot truck stop at exit 63 may have trouble navigating the proposed interchange, despite the 60-foot radius.

“A truck comes around there and turns quickly ... and it’s more of a tipping hazard than it would have been otherwise,” Hinnant said.

“Quite frankly we don’t understand (the designs),” City Manager Mike Legg said.

“We haven’t seen the data ... On paper it doesn’t look like it makes sense.”

But, Legg said, lawmakers have the impression that the transportation department has “dug its heels in” on the plan, telling both the city and residents that it stands by it.

No formal action was taken, but council members asked Melton and Legg to open conversations with elected officials in Raleigh, to involve them in the discussion.

“We’re not going to let this one go,” Melton said.

In other business, the council voted 5-0 to authorize the upset bid process for a 191-acre parcel of the city’s Second Creek land in Rowan County. Council members Ryan Dayvault and Roger Haas were absent.

According to a report by Legg, Chris Hoffner and Wendy Biggs-Ratcliffe made a written offer to buy the land for $602,000.

The Hoffner family has leased the land for farming since a larger parcel of Second Creek land was sold to Smith Moore LLC in 2008, according to the report.

This is the final parcel of Second Creek land, which Kannapolis had once considered as the site of a reservoir.

The Hoffners have been farming the land for three decades, according to the report.

City Attorney Wally Safrit told council members the restrictive covenants on the property — currently prohibiting development or any use other than farming — would remain in force if the property is sold.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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