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Problem with new N.C. 73 interchange?

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS – The good news: the clogged four-lane stretch of Interstate 85 should be widened to eight lanes within a few years.
The bad news: Doing so may cause more headaches for local commuters.
At Monday’s Kannapolis City Council meeting, Public Works Director Wilmer Melton unveiled a proposal to use a new type of intersection and traffic control at the N.C. 73 exit.
The south campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and a number of businesses are located nearby, at N.C. 73 and Trinity Church Road.
The highway project, currently in the design phase, calls for a new kind of interchange called a diverging diamond.
Melton said it’s designed for high-traffic areas where there’s a risk of traffic on exit ramps backing up onto the interstate.
Diagrams show traffic on the road crossing over the interstate actually swaps sides in a double-helix shape to cross the bridge.
This allows traffic coming off the interstates to turn more freely without waiting for lights to change.
But, Melton said, the current plan means that traffic coming out of Trinity Church Road would no longer be able to turn left onto N.C. 73 to access the interstate.
Drivers who wanted to go toward I-85 would have to turn right, then make a U-turn at the next intersection, where a wide turnaround space would be provided.
Melton said business owners on N.C. 73 had already complained.
And Councilman Randy Cauthen understood why.
“To expect that traffic to go up and make a U-turn could make a tremendous problem,” Cauthen said.
Councilman Darrell Hinnant said he feared traffic would end up trying to divert down other nearby roads.
Orphanage Road, for example, runs near a school.
He said rush hour traffic combined with school traffic could create hazards for parents.
“I would hope that we could do something and reverse their decision,” Hinnant said.
But Melton said that’s not likely to happen.
The DOT has used a “design/build” plan, cutting out some of the usual steps in the process.
The same company is both designing and constructing the project, with the design phase now about 40 percent completed.
“They’ve made it pretty clear to us that this is the design for the interchange,” Melton said.
“I don’t think they’re going to go back to the traditional diamond” — the type of interchange currently used, Melton said.
But Melton said he had asked representatives from the N.C. Dept. of Transportation to meet with business owners on April 12 at Golden Gate Trailers.
Mayor Bob Misenheimer and several council members said they might plan to attend that meeting to express their concerns.
Melton said he would relay the council’s stance to state officials.
This widening project is separate from the Yadkin River bridge and other local widening projects.
Widening the stretch of interstate from Concord Mills to N.C. 73 is coupled with completion of the I-485 loop around Charlotte.
About 6.8 miles of I-85 will be widened to eight lanes.
The entire project is slated for completion by June 2014 at a total cost of $125.1 million.


In other action:
In other business before the Kannapolis City Council:
• Council members and Police Chief Woody Chavis honored Lt. Anthony Clark on his retirement from the Kannapolis Police Department.
• The council heard a presentation from William “Whit” Whitley of the Kannapolis Rotary Club and Phyllis Beaver of Castle & Cooke announcing the Kannapolis Rotary Nutrithon.
The fundraiser’s goal is to raise $250,000 or more, beginning a fund to build or acquire housing for students visiting the N.C. Research Campus.
• The council voted unanimously to award a bid to Carolina Siteworks for improvements at Village Park and the Kannapolis Cemetery.
The project will add a black metal fence and entry signs at the historic cemetery.
Gravel roads running through the cemetery will be paved and repairs made to an aging retaining wall.
The total cost will be $523,071, funded through installment financing and money already set aside for cemetery improvements.
• Council members unanimously accepted Ronald Lee Horton’s final high bid of $1.7 million for 708 acres of the city’s Second Creek land.
The parcel was originally to have been sold to the Land Trust for Central North Carolina for conservation purposes.
The upset bidding process resulted in an additional $687,000 profit for the city.
In buying the land, Horton will agree to many of the original conservation terms, but up to seven home sites will be allowed.
According to City Manager Mike Legg’s report to council members, proceeds from these sales are not a part of the budget. They will be used to bolster the city’s savings.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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