New rail crossings, road closures in work in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 23, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — In the months to come, construction is set to begin on a high-speed rail project, adding a second track through parts of Rowan County into Kannapolis.
It’s part of a plan to expand rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh.
And it may — very literally — leave Kannapolis residents’ travel options up in the air.
Representatives from the N.C. Dept. of Transportation’s Rail Division addressed the Kannapolis City Council on Monday.
Part of the plan would involve extending 24th Street over a raised bridge, extending the road to U.S. 29, Cannon Boulevard and connecting that road with North Main Street over the tracks.
Under that plan, North Main Street would be elevated above the level of the tracks with construction of an artificial hill.
That way, the bridge would be about 40 feet high, enough to allow double-stacked freight cars to pass underneath on the tracks.
After the new connector is completed, the crossings at 18th Street, 22nd Street and 29th Street would be closed.
In 2010, North Carolina received $520 million in federal stimulus money to buy new railcars, add additional tracks and replace at-grade crossings with bridges.
It’s part of a $5 billion project to improve the rail corridor between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
With the improvements, trains could run much faster, cutting an hour or more off the Charlotte to Raleigh commute and increasing the number of trains per day, according to published reports.
But Kannapolis is a bottleneck: although there are multiple tracks in downtown Kannapolis and Salisbury, portions of the Norfolk Southern line run on a single track elsewhere.
Jahmal Pullen, engineering services manager for the Rail Division, told council members the plan is to begin work soon to help speed both rail and car traffic there, and elsewhere in town.
The 24th Street project isn’t slated to begin construction until April or May 2013, with a completion date around December 2016.
In the near term, plans call for the busy crossing at Rogers Lake Road between South Ridge Avenue and South Main Street to be rebuilt and widened.
Delays are frequent on both sides of this crossing, where stoplights less than 100 yards apart cause backups near, or onto, the tracks.
Pullen showed council members a map of the proposed crossing, with new turn lanes extending from Main Street all the way to Ridge.
He said the project is set to begin this summer, and will take six to eight months to complete.
The roads won’t be closed that long, Pullen said.
But, responding to council members’ questions, Pullen said Ridge Avenue, Rogers Lake Road and Main Street could be at least partially closed for a length of time.
Just how long, he said, couldn’t be known until the project has been bid out to contractors.
“But we’d like to at least keep a lane of traffic moving through,” Pullen said.
“And when we close the crossing, we want to get all the work done on the Rogers Lake piece, and open that back up,” he said.
Councilman Darrell Hinnant asked if the work would mean Main Street would be closed at times.
Pullen said that was true.
Then, Mayor Bob Misenheimer told Pullen, Engineering Manager Jason Orthner and Kannapolis Public Works Director Wilmer Melton that Kannapolis residents have lost their patience.
He mentioned the railroad crossings at C Street and Plymouth Street the city had agreed to close after the Rogers Lake Road crossing project was first discussed in 1997.
“I want you to look at it from the standpoint of the people of Kannapolis, and it’s a mess trying to go across (the Rogers Lake Road crossing) at 5 in the afternoon,” he said.
Misenheimer also brought up the Dept. of Transportation project last year – replacement of a storm water line and construction of a pedestrian tunnel under Loop Road – that kept one of the city’s main thoroughfares closed for over a year.
“Jamal, I don’t think the people of this city will tolerate another situation like that,” Misenheimer said.
He asked NCDOT for “due diligence” to make sure citizens are not inconvenienced.
In the meantime, Hinnant said he doubted the projects could be done on time.
Pullen said it could be done. “We have put quite a bit of time into the schedules,” Pullen said.
And, he said, there would be a larger workforce to meet the deadlines.
There’s another potential traffic nightmare looming south of town.
The overpass that carries Ridge Avenue over Interstate 85 into Concord may not be replaced when I-85 is widened.
“We definitely understand that would cause a situation where (South Ridge Avenue) would be a dead-end road,” Pullen said.
In that case, he said, there could be a plan to build a bridge at Mt. Olivet Road to provide an east-west connection across the railroad tracks.
In return, he said the current crossing at Winecoff School Road would be closed.
But those decisions, Pullen said, will have to wait until traffic studies are done and funding is determined, sometime in the near future.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.