Josh Bergeron: Five worthwhile priorities for future of Salisbury, Rowan County

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 26, 2021

In news stories and in life, the period between Christmas and the new year is a good time to reflect on the year that was and look ahead to possibilities for the future.

So, here are five infrastructure-related priorities for Salisbury and Rowan County that could make the community a better place to live:

• Free, fast wireless internet provided by the city’s fiber-optic network downtown would be a good use of taxpayer funds.

While free wireless internet is planned for Bell Tower Green Park, there are obvious benefits to expanding coverage across the municipal service district — the area officially considered to be downtown — particularly for people with limits on smartphone data plans or no data at all.

Look up a place to eat while on a shopping trip downtown. Listen to supplemental information for the Salisbury Sculpture Show without worrying about adding extra charges to your bill. Because not all businesses currently offer free internet to their customers, a city-sponsored initiative would add an amenity. Consider also that free downtown internet gives start-ups one less thing to worry about if they’re considering a downtown office.

• Improved train service elsewhere across the state and better public transit in Rowan County.

When first proposed earlier this year, the American Jobs Plan included a useful Amtrak route from Salisbury to Asheville as well as enhanced and new services on existing routes. It’s not yet clear how things will play out with the now-signed infrastructure bill. But there’s no doubt day trips on the train to Charlotte, Raleigh or the state’s other large cities could be popular.

How about a night out at a Cannon Ballers game without worrying about a designated driver? That would also require improved local public transit.

There are plenty of possibilities for improvement but the first step has to be elected official and public buy-in. Neither have materialized to an extent that significant sums of taxpayer funds will go toward mass transit. Instead of expanding service to meet medical needs, for example, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners eliminated the Rowan Express service this year, citing falling ridership numbers because of COVID-19.

People like their personal cars. COVID-19 remains a concern. Our community also just hasn’t been built to make mass transit easy. But there are plenty of benefits to improving public transit’s accessibility, including reducing existing walks from the bus stop to work or home, providing a way to get to work when cars need extended stays in the shop and serving as a more efficient mode of travel.

• More frequent electric vehicle charging stations on major roadways — not just interstates.

There’s good progress in this direction in the form of a pledge by the National Electric Highway Coalition, which includes Duke Energy, to build a fast-charging stations along “major U.S. travel corridors” by the end of 2023. A map distributed by the coalition appears to show only interstates among major corridors. That means I-85, I-77, I-40, I-95 and I-26 in North Carolina.

Because it’s possible to charge at home, stations probably won’t become as ubiquitous as gas stations. However, a future with widespread public adoption of electric vehicles — a critical part of a clean energy future — will require banks of charging stations on more than interstates.

U.S. highways such as U.S. 52 or 601 seem like good second-tier locations for stations.

• Progress on some of the community’s unfinished park projects.

Salisbury has already seen some of the benefits that the completion of Bell Tower Green Park brought to downtown. A good park can do the same for a community’s vitality elsewhere in Rowan County.

In Spencer, officials are working on building a trailhead on the Rowan County side of the Yadkin River as well as a park in the newly renovated Park Plaza. Landis is deep in discussions about creating a passive park on donated land and planning for additions for Lake Corriher Wilderness Park. Rowan County government hopes to turn the former site of Woodleaf Elementary School into a park, too.

• More than once in the previous few weeks, the Post’s opinion pages have encouraged the construction of more housing units in Salisbury and Rowan County because of rising demand and prices. To ensure that happens, local leaders should work to create new tax incentive packages or grants for developers who commit to building in town.

This will bring more residents — and probably more congested traffic — to the community. But the alternative could be continually rising prices after nationwide inflation concerns abate. It’ll create an awkward middle ground where people make too much for government-subsidized housing and too little to afford non-subsidized options.

Apartment complexes, duplexes, townhomes and single-family neighborhoods are economic development just the same as businesses bringing new jobs. If state legislators need to get involved to allow new incentives in state law, it would be a worthwhile pursuit.