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Alice Ross finds it hard to leave her home behind, even for ‘progress’

SALISBURY — Alice Ross has lived in this spot for 23 years, so she is used to commotion.

Directly behind her singlewide mobile home is probably the busiest rail corridor in the Southeast, carrying 30 Norfolk Southern freight trains and eight passenger trains a day.

When the trains rumble by, her little home shakes.

A busy five-lane highway lies in front of Ross’ trailer. She is separated from U.S. 29 by only the width of her front steps and the length of her short, unpaved driveway.

To top things off, Ross’ trailer sits in a flight pattern for the Rowan County Airport. Low-flying planes buzz through here regularly.

So you would think the daily noise of heavy construction around her would not bother Ross, except you’d be wrong. In a matter of days, she will have to vacate her singlewide in the name of progress.

It will take only a few swipes of the machines parked outside her back windows to push the trailer down and remove the debris.

“I’d much rather be here,” the 71-year-old Ross says.

Alice’s mother died in the bedroom of this place back in 1986. Her husband, Cecil Jack Ross, passed away in the living room in 1999.

It was in this mobile home, in 2003, where Alice received word that Pillowtex, her employer of 39 years, was shutting down for good.

This is where her 7-year-old great-nephew comes to visit, running to the box of toys she keeps by the television.

Ross has always loved the tall water oak and two spreading maples providing shade for the trailer. They are like old friends.

“I hate to give this up,” she says.

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Ross lives in the middle of a $106 million project, which is part of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Piedmont Improvement Program.

Over the years, significant changes are being made to the railroad corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte in which a second north-south track is being laid and many crossings are being closed or improved from a safety standpoint to allow for high-speed passenger trains.

That project has now come to an 11-mile stretch from the south of Henderson Grove Church Road to south of 18th Street in Kannapolis.

The construction will lay a second track, which is reason enough for Ross’ having to move, but her home also is in the way of a new bridge to be constructed over the railroad and U.S. 29 at Peeler Road and Cedar Springs Road.

The new bridge and traffic realignment will lead to the closing of the Peach Orchard and Peeler Road rail crossings.

Ross says the Liberty Commons nursing home across the highway from her will find itself in the middle of a cloverleaf.

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Robin Wagner, a friend of Alice’s from Main Street Baptist Church in China Grove, says the whole experience has been emotionally draining for Ross.

Wagner personally asks why the enormous sums of money spent on the high-speed rail project couldn’t help people in real need instead.

“It’s a gift that keeps on giving,” Wagner complains, “and it’s not the kind of gift you want.”

Ross first heard her home was in the way of the rail project in July 2012. Her frustration has come, first, in knowing her trailer’s days were numbered and, second, in sporadic communications with the state’s right-of-way agent, Atkins North America of Charlotte.

Ross says she hasn’t been given good updates on when she would have to leave or when her new mobile home would be ready.

Ross needs to know she’ll have a place to move into, and she has to give her moving crew — people at her church — some lead time to make room in their schedules.

“She just wants to know what’s going on,” Wagner says. “It’s the fact that she has just been held in limbo.”

The construction crews and equipment can’t get much closer to Ross. They are working outside her bedroom window. A huge crane is parked less than 50 yards from the trailer in a spot that also is being used as a construction parking lot.

She lost television reception one day when the workers hit her satellite dish.

The last time Ross spoke to the right-of-way agent, she was told to have everything packed and ready so that when she received the call to move, she could leave and leave fast.

“I’m not a mean person, but my meanness has been coming out,” Ross apologizes.

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There’s a positive side to Ross’ ordeal. Over the past year, she had designs on moving into senior citizen apartments in Concord first, then Granite Quarry, but those plans fell through.

Instead, the state will be buying her a new, factory-built Clayton mobile home, measuring 16 feet wide and 76 feet long. The state also is paying her moving expenses. In addition, for three-and-a-half years, it will make up the difference between what she was paying for lot rent along U.S. 29 and what her more expensive rent will be in a trailer park outside of Rockwell.

The new trailer will have three bedrooms and two baths. Back in the summer, Ross traveled with the right-of-way agent to Winston-Salem and picked out cabinets, countertops, back splashes, wallpaper, shutters and the outside color.

She received a telephone call later telling her she had run over her budget by choosing too many extras. Again, frustration.

“Don’t sit me down and say, ‘Pick out what you want,’ ” Alice says, then come back and tell her she chose too much.

The mobile home is being built in Rockwell, and Ross heard it was coming off the line Tuesday. But she has heard that story before.

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Alice’s present Tidwell trailer, a Cimarron model, dates back to 1978, when she and her husband bought it new.

For eight years, they lived on Old Beatty Ford Road. In 1986, they moved the trailer to land owned by her brother-in-law and close to the present location off U.S. 29.

At first, they sited the trailer on a spot where you had to cross the tracks to reach the home. In 1990, the couple moved the trailer to the location it’s in now.

Throughout the living room and kitchen, Ross has boxes packed with knickknacks off the shelves and photographs from the walls. She plans to take everything but the stove, refrigerator and washer-dryer, which she has sold.

Sentimental, she points out the coloring book she has saved from when her niece was a youngster. The girl is 18 now.

The red glasses on the top kitchen shelf, where she can’t quite reach, were from the “Honky Classic” bowling tournament in Cincinnati, she says.

Ross also unwraps some newspaper to reveal a bowling plaque she received in 1971 for making the 600 scoring club, recognizing a three-game series of 193, 199 and 217.

Alice has been bowling in leagues since 1969, mostly at Jackson Lanes in Kannapolis.

Add the sound of falling pins as one more commotion in Alice’s life. These days, it is full of noise.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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