‘All hands on deck’: Rowan County pursues funding to bring new interchange to East Spencer

Published 12:10 am Sunday, April 24, 2022

SALISBURY — Rowan County government is actively pursuing funding that could help bring a new interstate interchange to East Spencer.

Last week, the Board of Commissioners gave county staff the green light to apply for $500,000 in funding for the completion of an Interchange Justification Report (IJR). The board also authorized Chair Greg Edds to write North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Sen. Phil Berger to advocate for the funding, which would be directed from the state.

“We’ll make the case that this is worthy of contingency fund spending,” Edds said.

The county is attempting to expedite a process that started several years ago when commissioners and planning staff examined the I-85 corridor in search of places to emphasize road development for economic projects. One area identified was where I-85 intersects with Correll Street and McCanless Road.

“We looked at McCanless and thought, ‘There’s an opportunity for a couple things,’” Edds said.

Edds said an interchange at that location is desirable not only because it would give travelers a more direct route to Dan Nicholas Park and High Rock Lake, but also because it would help generate economic development in East Spencer.

“Going westbound, you could give East Spencer really its own grand entrance and really create new opportunities for them there,” Edds said.

Additionally, Edds said the interchange would prevent trucks traveling to and from industrial companies in East Spencer from idling on Long Street and contributing to traffic on Innes Street. The interchange would likely be exit 78 or 77 because of its proximity to those mile markers.

The county pitched the interchange project to the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2019. Since then, Edds said the project has been “gaining momentum” but pointed out that projects of this nature don’t move quickly.

The NCDOT conducted a “very preliminary” design plan for the project that determined the interchange project will cost about $24 million. Pat Ivey, division 9 engineer for the NCDOT, said the project is currently unfunded.

The county’s initial goal was to have the project included in the state’s 2024-2033 State Transportation Improvement Plan. The only projects included in the plan, however, are those currently in progress. That’s due to a lack of available funding, Ivey said.

Ivey said the county’s next opportunity to have the project considered by the NCDOT is summer of 2023 when the submittal window opens for the state’s 2026-2035 State Transportation Improvement Plan. Even then, Ivey said the “best case” scenario would be for work on the project to begin in the 2030s — unless the county obtains an alternate funding source.

“That would be different if there was some additional funding source that came in, say there was a grant or an earmark provided by Congress or something like that,” Ivey said. “That could affect the timing of the project because maybe it could be done sooner.”

The project would still need to be included in the NCDOT’s State Transportation Plan to utilize any outside funding obtained by the county.

Garnering federal funding for the project is exactly what the county is hoping to accomplish. But first, the county says it needs to conduct the Interchange Justification Report. An IJR ensures that a new interchange would not result in any safety or operation issues along the interstate corridor. Ivey said an IJR isn’t usually completed until a project is funded, so this would be different from the normal process.

If the county is successful in obtaining the half million needed for the IJR, Ivey said the state can move forward with that part of planning.

“If the commissioners provide funding or they come up with funding to do something like (IJR), we can certainly do that and would work with the Federal Highway Administration on putting that study together,” Ivey said.

Edds described the effort to bring a new interchange to East Spencer as an “all hands on deck” enterprise. In addition to rallying the support of local leaders and legislators, Edds said the county has instructed its new state and federal lobbyists to put the interchange project at the top of their priority list.

“We’re getting tremendous help from federal lobbyists, state lobbyists,” Edds said.

Since January, Strategics Consulting has been representing the county’s interests in Washington D.C. and McGuireWoods has been working for Rowan in Raleigh.

For East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett, a new interchange can’t come soon enough. Mallett said the interchange would provide better interstate access to several companies in East Spencer and new residents who might soon move into new homes being built in the town.

“We’re looking forward to this project because it’s really going to help boost us another level,” Mallett said. “Even though we’ve climbed so far, we want to go another level.”

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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