New tunnel adds safety, flexibility in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — The light at the end of this tunnel is a walk in the park … literally.
At Village Park, the new pedestrian tunnel — a project over a year in the making —has been open just a short time, but already is making things safer and a little easier for park visitors.
“The tunnel has been a welcome addition to the park and the greenway system,” said Becky Tolle, recreation and special events coordinator for Kannapolis Parks and Recreation.
The tunnel sports the city’s logo on security gates at either end, which close off the entrances at night.
Fluorescent lights inside the tunnel and streetlamps and spotlights outside provide an added dose of security.
And new walkways connect the tunnel with sidewalks and parking lots on either side of Loop Road.
Constructed over the course of about a year, the tunnel was part of a $2.1 million project, which also added a storm waterline under the road.
The project caused numerous complaints from citizens, however, when Loop Road — the main thoroughfare around the N.C. Research Campus grounds — remained closed for weeks longer than intended.
Tolle was quick to point out that the road closure wasn’t just about building a tunnel for the park.
The tunnel’s connection to the N.C. Research Campus grounds is designed to ease pedestrian travel around Kannapolis, especially for those who walk “the loop” for exercise.
And, she said, concerts and other events in Village Park are now easier and safer to reach on foot.
“It does ease the congestion at the corner” of Loop Road and West C Street, Tolle said.
Case in point: Village Park’s biggest event of the year, the Charlotte Symphony orchestra concert on June 29, drew about 10,000 people.
Many of them parked and walked to the outdoor amphitheater, making use of the new tunnel.
In years past, Tolle said, traffic snagged at the intersection due to large numbers of people crossing the road.
This year, the tunnel eased that strain, she said.
Saturday, there wasn’t anyone out on the lawn at Village Park.
But at the splash pad, the picnic shelters and the Rotary Express train, plenty of people were enjoying the afternoon.
Some, like Alexis Montgomery, said they come to Village Park “once in a while.”
“But sometimes, it’s hard to get here,” Montgomery said.
While they walked through the park, waiting their turn to ride the train, Montgomery and her son joined others in a walk through the new tunnel.
She said it would make getting to events easier.
Darrin Stanback agreed. “And, if you have a concert out here, this would be a good place to cool off,” he joked as he walked back into the sun.
In the grand scheme of things, the Village Park tunnel is part of efforts to make downtown Kannapolis more walkable, and improving connectivity with surrounding communities.
Tolle said the Kannapolis greenway system, part of the Carolina Thread Trail network of walking and bicycling paths, will one day connect the city with surrounding towns via miles of such paths.
Which means that this small tunnel might have a big impact on future cycling events, not to mention the concerts that already draw many downtown.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.