Railroad project could force businesses, homeowners to move

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — A proposed railroad improvement project could displace as many as 59 businesses and 28 residences in southern Rowan County.
The N.C. Department of Transportation wants to build 11 miles of second track on the North Carolina Railroad from south of Henderson Grove Church Road in Salisbury to south of 18th Street in Kannapolis.
New bridges also would be constructed to separate automobile and train traffic, and 16 railroad crossings could be closed. The project would start in the spring of 2013 and is designed to improve speed and safety.
According to draft plans from the Department of Transportation, it could involve up to 59 business and 28 residential “relocatees,” but officials say not all of them will have to move.
Most of them have property within the railroad corridor, which roughly follows U.S 29 or Main Street in Salisbury and U.S. 29A, which is known as Main Street in China Grove, Landis and Kannapolis.
Some, like Brothers Tire Sales in Kannapolis, sit just a few yards away from the track. Co-owner Brad Brothers said last week his family’s business at 1216 N. Main St. could be forced to relocate — or even shut down.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on what kind of of money we could get from the railroad,” Brothers said. “I’m sure it’s going to probably cost us… at least three quarters of a million dollars. My grandfather has been here for 53 years, and that would be like starting over.”
Ryan White, project engineer with the Department of Transportation Rail Division, said last week the department not only will pay people for the appraised value of their property, it also will help people transition to a new location.
“It’s not just matter of the department buying property and then sending folks on their way,” White said.
Brothers said his family has property across the street that the business can use. But he was told they might not be compensated for the shop itself, because it falls within the railroad corridor, not one of the road construction areas.
Mark Stout, owner of Stout Heating and Air, 4243 S. Main St., Salisbury, also said he was told North Carolina Railroad isn’t giving compensation.
“They told me it was going to come over on my side some, but that should not interfere with my building,” Stout said.
He said his parking area and septic tank sit in the project’s path.
Scott Saylor, president of the North Carolina Railroad Company, said compensation “depends on the particular property ownership” and the boundaries of the original corridor established in 1850.
He said the Department of Transportation is leading the project and referred questions about right-of-way issues there.
Greer Beatty, a representative of the department, said it wants to “compensate people fairly for their property.”
Stout and Brothers said they first heard about the plans at least a year ago. They were told their businesses might need to move, but detailed maps were not released until recently.
White said the list of impacted properties will shrink when the plans are finalized next spring.
Over the past few years, the Department of Transportation has held multiple public hearings about the project, and the last one took place on Dec. 5.
The department says it has notified property owners who might be impacted. It’s not clear how many got the message, though.
The edge of the Tuscarora Yarns manufacturing facility, located at 406 N. Main St. China Grove, falls within the railroad corridor and looks to be in the construction path.
But company officials didn’t know that until the Post told them last week, said Tuscarora COO David Roberts.
“Any deviation in terms of our real estate is problematic,” Roberts said.
Ervin Johnson, Tuscarora CFO, said construction would likely leave them without enough parking spaces to meet code, and it will be a “major problem” if the project reaches to its buildings.
Department of Transportation officials said they spoke to “someone who’s helping develop the site,” but no one was available Thursday to explain further or comment on Tuscarora’s situation.
In January, the company announced it would move its operations to the former Hanesbrands building at 308 E. Thom Street. It is not clear how far that move has progressed.
The rail project has an estimated price tag of $105.8 million, including $71.2 million for construction and $34.6 million to acquire right-of-way. It would be funded entirely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, White said.
The Department of Transportation said plans will be finalized by March, when it will begin acquiring right-of-way for the project.
Construction is scheduled to begin one year later, in March of 2013, and finish by September of 2017.
This section of the North Carolina Railroad is part of the busiest rail corridor in the state, according to the Department of Transportation. It currently hosts more than 30 Norfolk Southern Railway freight trains and eight passenger trains per day.
Adding a second track will let passenger trains pass slower freight trains, the department says, and improve service reliability. It also will allow passenger trains to make more daily round trips from Raleigh to Charlotte without getting in the way of freight trains.
A second track used to exist between Salisbury and Kannapolis, but it was removed in the late 1970s. Over time, local residents have begun building next to or within the railroad corridor.
Now, with double tracks on either side,the area acts as a bottleneck for train traffic.
“The trains actually have to stop and wait for another train,” White said. “It’s like a pair of two-way streets connected by a one-way street.”
The project also will realign existing railroad curves to allow higher passenger train speeds and reduce travel times.
White said trains that can run 79 miles per hour must slow down to about 50 miles per hour to navigate certain curves. This disrupts schedules and keeps people from riding the train, he said.
In addition, the transportation department is building new bridges to replace existing street-level railroad crossings. Transportation officials say this will reduce the risk of car and train collisions.
Removing 16 railroad crossings also will reduce train horn noise and traffic congestion, the department says.
This project is part of the Department of Transportation’s Piedmont Improvement Program, a series of improvements to the railroad between Raleigh and Charlotte. According to the department, these will allow long-term implementation of the federally-designated Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.
Detailed maps of the draft plans are available at www.ncdot.gov/projects/RailReidKannapolis/.
Property owners with questions about relocation can contact Judy Joines, right-of-way coordinator with the N.C. Department of Transportation’s rail division, at jjoines@ncdot. gov or 336- 903-9215.
For general information about the project, call Ryan White at 919-733-7245, extension 266.

Project highlights

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to:
• Construct 11 miles of second track from south of Henderson Grove Church Road in Salisbury to south of 18th Street in Kannapolis.

• Construct a new bridge over the railroad and U.S. 29 at Peeler Road and Cedar Springs Road to replace the Peach Orchard Road and Peeler Road railroad crossings.

• Upgrade the Webb Road railroad crossing with improved signals, crossing gates, and median barriers to prevent drivers from going around the crossing gates and to improve safety. Close the existing Mount Hope Church Road railroad crossing.

• Upgrade the Church Street (N.C. 152) and Centerview Street railroad crossings in China Grove with new signals, crossing gates, and median barriers to improve safety and prevent drivers from going around the crossing gates.

• Extend Kimball Road east from North Main Street to Chapel Street. Construct a new bridge carrying the railroad tracks over the Kimball Road extension to replace the Thom Street, Eudy Road, and North Central Avenue railroad crossings.

• Improve the Ryder Avenue railroad crossing with new signals, crossing gates, and median barriers to improve safety and to prevent drivers from going around the crossing gates. Improve intersections at Ryder Avenue and Main Street, and Ryder Avenue and Chapel Street. Close the adjacent Mill Street railroad crossing.

• Construct a new road connection from U.S. 29 (Cannon Boulevard) to North Main Street at 24th Street with a new bridge over the railroad to replace the existing railroad crossings at 29th Street, 22nd Street, and 18th Street.