Old Beatty Ford plans threaten homes Some residents unhappy with widening project

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2013

SALISBURY — Tony and Nancy Salamone thought they had a steal when they purchased their 113-year-old Old Beatty Ford Road home in March 2011.
But a planned road widening project could run the major thoroughfare just feet from their home and others nearby.
“I would’ve never bought that house if somebody would’ve told me about this,” Tony Salamone said Thursday.
The Salamones were among dozens of residents who showed up to an N.C. Department of Transportation informational meeting at Grace Lower Stone Church on Old Beatty Ford Road to learn more about the project.
The meeting was set to educate residents on a plan to spend $11 million to widen about 7 miles of the two-lane road from Lentz Road to Lower Stone Church Road. In addition to building 12-foot-wide lanes — they’re now 8- to 10-feet wide along that stretch — the project will add a 4-foot paved shoulder with rumble strips on each side and a drainage ditch.
The state will need about 7 feet of property on either side of the current road for the widening. Transportation officials plan to begin acquiring right of way next year with construction set to start in 2015.
But several residents — like the Salamones — left the meeting in frustration.
Neighbor Francis Beam has lived at her Old Beatty Ford abode since 1961.
And with a 3-year-old, Beam said, she’s afraid her porch could be curbside in two years.
“It’s going to come pretty close to my porch,” Beam said. “All they want to do is widen that road so big trucks can go faster. I can’t afford to move.”
Holding his 2-year-old boy on his hip at the meeting Thursday, Salamone said he won’t be able to play with his son in the yard anymore.
“I don’t want no trucks there at my front porch. I’ve got a little guy here for crying out loud,” he said. “They’re talking about making it safe. They’re making it worse.”
State Transportation Department officials fended off a flurry of angry questions that residents hurled at them Thursday.
“Why do this to us when the trucks can ride on U.S. 52 or N.C. 152?” one man asked.
“Why don’t you just lower the speed limit?” another woman protested.
DOT District Engineer Pat Ivey said the proposal hopes to address the boom in traffic — and wrecks.
State officials said the daily traffic count in 2010 was 2,900 to 4,000 per day. They project the road to see 4,100 to 5,800 a day in 2035.
Officials are also citing fatal wrecks on the narrow countryside cruise.
“It has become a major thoroughfare, a major commuter route,” Ivey said. “The traffic volumes on that road have increased tremendously.”
But critics snapped back, saying a speed limit decrease would force tractor trailers to use alternate routes and would keep motorists at safer speeds.
Melissa Cowan knows the road’s treachery as well as most, having replaced a large fence at her home four of five consecutive years after out-of-control drivers plowed into her property.
Now, she said, the traffic will be closer to residences.
“Nobody is going to buy my house when there’s a tractor trailer driving 70 mph past my front door,” Cowan said. “I bought this property to live at it for a long time, not forever, but a long time. Now I’m going to have to live here forever because no one is going to buy the damn thing now.”
As a horse owner, Cowan said, she also doesn’t want the required ditch in front of her property because she has a horse trailer that she needs to pull onto the road.
“I have to get my horse trailer in and out and you can’t do it with a ditch. That’s where there’s not a ditch there now,” Cowan said. “This is horrible. This is America.”
The renovation effort is one of two projects being considered on one of the county’s longest roads. And the second could stir even more interest.
DOT officials are conducting a safety project study on the Old Beatty Ford Road overpass that crosses Interstate 85.
According to Ivey, if approved, the overpass — like the widening project — would aim to reduce crash rates.
“Safety is the main reason we’re doing the projects right now,” Ivey said. “Run-off-the-road crashes seem to be the biggest problem we have.”
Ivey said officials are considering a new overpass that would be just north of the current bridge.
But the project lacks a key component for interested parties: an interchange.
The safety project would move the overpass but it isn’t expected to add ramps to get to the interstate — something county commissioners and nearby municipalities want.
Last week, at Ivey’s request, according to emails obtained by the Post, Rowan County commissioners passed a resolution supporting an interchange study.
“The county had already provided support of the interchange before in the past. We basically just wanted it updated,” Ivey said.
Ivey said funding availability and the Federal Highway Adminstration’s approval are two big factors in the interchange.
But, N.C. Rep. Carl Ford — who represents southern Rowan and northern Cabarrus counties — said a new exit would do wonders for economic development.
“I’ve heard some retail, some smaller type businesses, even talks of possible health care could come there. I’m just telling you things I’ve heard over the last few months,” Ford said. “It’s going to be a critical interchange there for the county.”
Ford said he’s had at least two meetings with State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata on the interchange idea. Ford said Tata shares his interest in growing the area.
“They’re listening and they’re getting it, and you know they’re getting it because they ask you questions,” Ford said. “They want to know.”
Still, supporters will face financial and environmental challenges with the bridge project.
With an I-85 widening plan looming, Ivey said, a new bridge isn’t even part of the plan.
“That is not included in the 85 widening project that is currently being designed by DOT,” Ivey said.
A nearby creek could also slow progress.
“We know that there will be some environmental issues that we have to address because of the creek that is parallel to I-85 along that area,” Ivey said. “They’re not insurmountable, but we will have to address them.”
Ford said a recent transportation budget proposal should pave the way for increased interest from state officials in the interchange. He also said the interchange can be built simultaneously with the I-85 widening project.
Ivey said he thinks the overpass will have an interchange at some point, but until then he’s hoping to straighten the road.
“An interchange at the highway right there would be a tremendous help in being able to market that area,” Ivey said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.