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China Grove Town Council vents about I-85 construction

CHINA GROVE — Construction associated with the widening of Interstate 85 regularly creates long traffic delays in south Rowan County, but there’s only so much engineers can do, say town officials and Department of Transportation staff.

Staff members from the Rowan County DOT office appeared at the China Grove Town Council meeting Tuesday to provide an update about ongoing construction. Before, during and after the update, town officials vented their frustrations about the I-85 widening project.

For China Grove residents, one point of frustration is that cars and trucks often exit onto U.S. 29 when traffic backs up on I-85 — causing delays on both roads.

China Grove Councilman Mike Upright says it’s easy to tell when there’s an accident on I-85 because tractor-trailers fill both southbound lanes of U.S. 29. Upright used a metaphor to thank engineers for trying to alleviate traffic problems.

“You’re spitting in the ocean. I mean, it’s not going to rise at all, but thank you for trying anyway,” Upright said.

Kelly Seitz, Rowan County resident engineer for the DOT, said it’s important that motorists pay attention in construction zones. DOT engineers and Lane Construction, the contractor for the widening, have made changes to previous plans in the course of the project, but there’s not much that can be done about traffic delays, Seitz said.

Responding to concerns from Town Council members, Seitz said DOT would examine timing on traffic signals and try to improve congestion.

“We just ask that you keep looking at it,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Stroud. “You can’t fix stupid.”

During the meeting, Seitz and a representative of Lane Construction also spoke about details of the I-85 widening.

Seitz said DOT and construction crews are working to relocate utilities, such as water lines, in construction areas. Construction crews also built a ramp in the median of the I-85 widening zone that connects to the N.C. 152 bridge and aims to prevent large trucks from entering the interstate.

He said the Pine Ridge Road bridge over I-85 closed Tuesday and should be closed for 240 days. Bridges on Lentz and Daugherty roads could be finished within two weeks, depending on the weather. The bridges are open but have not been completely resurfaced, he said.

Most comments on Tuesday from Town Council members focused on traffic congestion. Council members expressed particular frustration about construction at the N.C. 152 bridge over the interstate.

Withers said he’s most concerned about traffic and construction in the area because of the potential effect on the safety of drivers, especially high school students. Withers said parents and children will regularly drive through construction traffic in the coming months. He raised the specter of an accident happening when someone is late for school, not paying attention and is faced with traffic congestion.

Early in Tuesday’s discussion, Withers described south Rowan traffic with a single sentence.

“Traffic in China Grove is a nightmare no matter which direction you go,” he said.

Seitz said many of the problems stem from people being inattentive to road signs. He said all construction associated with the I-85 widening should be complete by the end of 2019.

He recommended people with questions related to I-85 construction or other transportation issues visit ncdot.gov/contact.

Contact associate editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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