Rowan officials look to East Spencer for next big I-85 interchange

Published 12:30 am Thursday, February 28, 2019

By Samuel Motley

EAST SPENCER ­— As construction on a new Interstate 85 exit in south Rowan County continues, local leaders have their eyes on the next interstate project.

That project would place an interchange with I-85 at McCanless Road and Correll Street — between Exits 76 and 79 — feeding directly into the town of East Spencer. It would connect an existing underpass with exit and entrance ramps. While the project is its early stages, county and town officials say they’re optimistic about the potential.

Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said the project should be fairly inexpensive but may take some time to come to fruition. He said there are three clear benefits to the project — tourism, economic development in East Spencer and the area, and a direct route to I-85 for tractor-trailers.

Edds said it’s currently difficult to get to Dan Nicholas Park and the entrance-exit ramps would offer “direct access.” He added the park is one of the most visited in North Carolina.

Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, said people often get confused about how to get to Dan Nicholas Park. This project would help with that, she said.

As for economic development, the exit would offer direct access to buildings in East Spencer as well as new subdivisions around High Rock Lake.

Another benefit, said East Spencer Town Administrator F.E. Isenhour, involves alleviating traffic in the town, especially from the Meridian Brick Plant and Boral Industries via Correll Street.

But there’s still work to do. The project is in a “concept phase,” said Phil Conrad, executive director of the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization, which plans for regional transportation needs.

Just as southern Rowan’s Old Beatty Ford Road interchange — currently under construction — took years before funding was finalized, Pat Ivey, the N.C. Department of Transportation Division 9 engineer, said the East Spencer exit is “far from funded.”

Explaining the ins and outs of the project, Ivey said DOT first has to complete a thorough review. It will “have to be a public process,” he said. Most important, DOT will review “congestion and safety” concerns related to creating a new interchange.

Other things DOT will look at include:

• Does it meet minimum requirements for a new interchange?

• Does it improve the existing interstate?

• How does the proposed interchange work with existing roadways?

• How will it impact the community around the proposed interchange economically?

The proximity of the East Innes Street exit — to the south — and Andrews Road exit — to the north — might create problems for the competitiveness of the project, Ivey said.

Ivey said the next steps will include adding the project to the Comprehensive Transportation Plan as well as conducting a feasibility study. These steps are likely to happen concurrently, he said.

But there’s still optimism in East Spencer and Rowan County.

“I never try to sugar-coat things,” Isenhour said. The project isn’t official until the state is involved, he said. Still, East Spencer officials are on board with the project.

Spalding said the exit will require a team effort. The Chamber of Commerce is “working together with regional partners” as well as business and community leaders, she said.