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City's I-85 'gateway' blossoms

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Here’s a good thing to know for your next Salisbury trivia quiz.
How many plants went into the state’s landscaping project at the East Innes Street exit of Interstate 85?
A. 675.
B. 975.
C. 1,675.
D. 5,775.
If you answered “D” go to the head of the class and make yourself available the next time Salisbury Police need a crowd estimate.
A long time coming, mainly because of severe drought conditions in recent years, the N.C. Department of Transportation project cost $699,898.
Country Boy Landscaping of Statesville was the contractor, and it is responsible for maintaining the interchange for the next three years. Then, the city of Salisbury will take over through a municipal agreement signed with the DOT in 2008.
Chris Cartner, owner of Country Boy, said all the plants came from Godley’s Garden Center in Salisbury.
“It’s been a really unique job that’s gone really good for all involved,” Cartner said.
The East Innes Street medians, in full bloom right now, were part of a separate landscaping project paid for by a “community streetscape” grant.
The DOT landscaping includes 376 flowering trees, 913 evergreen trees, 931 deciduous trees, 755 shrubs, 2,165 native grasses and perennials and 1,035 day lilies.
Cartner said he will return in the fall to reseed and rehabilitate some 11 acres of grass areas at the huge interchange. With the plantings and grass, some 12-plus acres are involved.
Daniel Horne, of the DOT’s Division 9 office in Winston-Salem, said plantings at the East Innes Street interchange are more elaborate than with most other DOT projects.
The interchange is considered an important gateway into Salisbury, and the interchange also was part of a Transportation Improvement Project, Horne said.
The design is considered a Level IV “Color Canopy Concept,” which is the most intensive level of plantings, aimed at providing high-profile aesthetics for key gateways.
It relies on canopy and flowering trees, grasses and perennials, limited turf and hardscape elements, such as stamped concrete.
The city’s estimated maintenance costs starting in 2012 are going to be $20,000 to $25,000 a year.
For a while, it looked as though the extensive landscaping might not happen.
In October 2007 then-Gov. Mike Easley called on the state to reduce water consumption by half, causing the DOT to defer all new planting projects until further notice.
When City Council learned the interchange planting could be delayed a year or longer, it authorized Mayor Susan Kluttz to write a letter to Division Engineer Pat Ivey asking that the Salisbury project be expedited.
Salisbury had plenty of water, Kluttz told Ivey, and the interchange was important because it often is the first and last impression I-85 travelers have of the city.
The city also argued the plantings would help contribute moisture, provide needed shade and prevent erosion.
Ivey wrote back in February 2008 that the central part of North Carolina, including Rowan County, was still in the “exceptional drought” category and the restriction on new planting projects could not be lifted.
A couple of months later, Ivey said he had been given authority to consider planting projects again on a case-by-case basis. Eventually, the way was cleared for this spring’s planting.
As many indigenous varieties of trees were planted as possible, Salisbury Senior Planner Lynn Raker said, and the flowering plants will provide seasonal color.
“We felt like this was our major gateway into town,” she added.
The project does not include any irrigation. Any plants that die will have to be replaced by the contractor. But in hindsight, it looks as though the state made the right decision to wait on the planting.
“We’ve had ideal weather this spring,” Raker said.

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