Rail projects in Rowan will start next year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY – Local leaders say they appreciated a meeting Tuesday with state transportation officials, but it didn’t tell them much more than they already knew.
The N.C. Department of Transportation held a community forum Tuesday morning at the Salisbury Train Station about improvement projects along the Piedmont Rail Corridor, which runs from Raleigh to Charlotte.
In her opening remarks, Salisbury City Council Member Maggie Blackwell thanked the transportation department for doing a “fantastic job” of keeping the city involved and informed.
“Salisbury is a strong advocate of rail and has been its direct beneficiary over the years with new construction, jobs and fiscal impacts,” Blackwell said. “In fact, a 2003 study placed the overall impact of rail on Salisbury at about $40 million.”
The rail division hopes to bring more economic development to the corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte, said Paul Worley, engineering and safety director. He said the Piedmont Improvement Project is designed to increase railroad capacity, efficiency and safety for both passenger and freight trains.
Tuesday’s forum is one of a series of meetings meant to improve coordination with local governments and communities, Worley said. A couple dozen officials came to the depot from Charlotte, Kannapolis, Salisbury and several places in between.
“We are very blessed to have a good relationship with all of the stakeholders in communities up and down line, and we want to continue to maintain that and continue to work with you,” Worley said.
As part of the program, the department proposes constructing 11 miles of second railroad 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 will be constructed to separate automobile and train traffic.
According to Jahmal Pullen, the rail division’s engineering services manager, that project will be advertised in June or July of 2013. Construction likely will continue until the end of 2016.
Rowan County Commissioner Carl Ford asked for the total number of homes and businesses being displaced by the Rail Improvement Program. Ed Muire, the county planning director, said he’d like to know how many there are specifically in Rowan County.
Worley said he didn’t have those numbers on hand, but he could get participants the answers within a week.
“We’ve worked hard to minimize those relocations and minimize those costs,” Worley said.
Participants broke into table discussions by geographic region, where they were invited to ask any questions and share general comments about specific projects.
China Grove and Landis officials gathered around a table with maps of the double-track project in their area. Matthew Simmons, a transportation department representative, showed them how the state plans to build the second track on alternating sides of the existing railroad.
“We looked at doing the best we could to avoid relocations on each side,” Simmons said. “We’re trying to stay on the opposite side of whatever structures are there.”
China Grove Town Attorney Tom Brooke said he thought the department did a good job of explaining what’s going on, even though he knew most of it before the meeting. “I’m glad they’re able to do what they could do without having further impact on properties around it,” Brooke said. “At least in China Grove, they pretty much told us who would be affected immediately, and my understanding is it’s only one property or so that they’re totally taking.”
But Ford said he has a hard time keeping up with the transportation department’s plans because they keep changing.
“It’s like they have an agenda, and they know where they’re going, but it’s hard to keep up with it,” Ford said.
He said people who live along the railroad in China Grove, Landis, Kannapolis and Salisbury are still worried and wondering about how the project will impact them.
“It was good, but there weren’t a lot of questions answered, I don’t think,” Ford said. “Hopefully, they’ll follow up like they said they would.”
The transportation department also is planning two grade separation projects in Rowan County.
The first will move Klumac Road so that it crosses under the tracks through a tunnel. Pullen said the state plans to advertise for contract bids in October and award that project in November. The work will likely start at the beginning of 2013 and end in the fall of 2015.
Then, a bridge will be built to let Peeler Road cross over the tracks. Pullen said that will be advertised in March or April of next year, let out soon afterward and finished by the end of 2014.
Rowan County Commissioner Jim Sides asked if there would be a service road added to connect Peeler Road with Peach Orchard Road, where a rail crossing would be closed as part of the project.
Pullen said homeowners on the eastern side of the tracks will have access to an existing connecting road that will be widened to carry more traffic.
Also at the meeting, Randy Hemann, director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., and Salisbury Planning Director Joe Morris gave a presentation about economic improvements along the city’s rail corridor over the past several years.
For the benefit of participants from other counties and cities, Morris outlined how the 300 block of North Lee Street has been revitalized from empty warehouses to an active arts district.
“It’s exciting to see that area transform,” Morris said. “I encourage you, if you’ve got those kinds of corridors along your railroad, look at them… for the potential for economic growth in your area.”
More information about the double-track project can be found at www.ncdot.gov/projects/RailReidKannapolis/ .
An overview of the Piedmont Improvement Project is available at http://www.bytrain.org/track/ .
In 2010, the Department of Transportation was awarded more than $520 million through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to modernize the state’s railroad network from Raleigh to Charlotte for freight and intercity passenger service. An additional $25 million in federal stimulus funds will cover the cost for the environmental/design groundwork for improvements from Raleigh to Richmond, Va.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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