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Interstate 85: Cabarrus is Driven

Aug 01, 2016 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

“An object at rest tends to stay at rest, especially if you’re behind it when the light turns green.”

                             - Robert Brault, author

WalletHub, a personal finance website, conducted a study over the course of six years – from 2008 to 2014 – in which the health of 515 cities across the country was compared based on 10 measurements. Those included population and job growth, median household income, growth in the business sector, median home prices, etc. The period had been a volatile one economically, so it says a lot that Concord was named the seventh fastest growing small city (under 100,000 residents) in the U.S.

Kudos to Concord, and all who work to provide an enriching and economically viable place to live and work. With that, though, come the growing pains: dealing with increased traffic, expansions and improvements to infrastructure, and the need for additional housing and county and city services.

I-85

Sampson Parker is one of the most amicable men you’d ever want to meet. He also has to have an abundance of patience as Blythe Construction’s project superintendent overseeing the Interstate 85 widening project here in Cabarrus County.  

Heading up about 100 Blythe employees and subcontractors, Parker is currently working on the 7.75-mile stretch of interstate expansion that will see four lanes in either direction from just north of Highway 73 to just north of Lane Street in Kannapolis.

Referring to the segment of roadway between Blythe’s project and Rowan County, Parker says, “The interstate will go back down to two lanes from four, but the last section is under contract. Another contractor got the job and it will start next spring.”

That’s good news for commuters who will enjoy an eight-lane interstate from Charlotte straight through Cabarrus to Rowan County. In the meantime, Blythe has its hands full. Having completed the I-485 northern leg in June 2015, they quickly moved on to this project, which will keep them busy through the end of 2016.

Quickly is the operative word. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) – operating with a $4.4-billion annual budget – has proven forward thinking, making improvements to this area of Cabarrus County ahead of original schedules and before the roadways exceed capacity, which was predicted to take place by 2035.

Funding for these state roads breaks down as 80 percent from the state and 20 percent from the federal government. About 60 percent of the state’s contribution comes from the Motor Fuel Tax, which currently stands at 34 cents per gallon. Twenty-five percent comes from NCDOT fees charged to motorists and 15 percent comes from the Highway Use Tax charged for vehicle title transfers. On the federal level, a motor fuel tax and vehicle fees account for their contribution.

Funding for the projects we’re seeing taking place on our roads now was largely allocated by way of the Strategic Investments law (STI), passed by the state legislature in 2013. It “allows NCDOT to use

its funding more efficiently and effectively to enhance the state’s infrastructure, while supporting economic growth, job creation and a higher quality of life. This process encourages thinking from a statewide and regional perspective while also providing flexibility to address local needs,” NCDOT says.

“STI also establishes the Strategic Mobility Formula, a new way of allocating available revenues based on data-driven scoring and local input. It was used for the first time to develop NCDOT’s current construction schedule, the 2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

The STIP, which identifies the transportation projects that will receive funding during a 10-year period, is a state and federal provision. Federal law requires it to be updated at least every four years. NCDOT, however, updates it every two years.

According to Parker, the 7.75-mile stretch Blythe is currently working on will cost more than $200 million to complete. It will see 17 bridges replaced: four interstate bridges over water, one railroad bridge over I-85, 11 grade separation bridges over I-85 and one grade separation bridge over Norfolk Southern Railroad. It will require 835,000 cubic yards of earthwork, 96,560 linear feet of storm drain and 572,000 tons of asphalt.

Utilizing new highway configurations is another component in keeping ever-increasing traffic moving. Anyone driving on Poplar Tent Road and Highway 73 has likely encountered the diverging diamond interchange (DDI) at I-85. This double crossover diamond interchange (DCD) takes both directions of traffic to the opposite side of the road where they can then merge left onto the interstate or remain on the secondary road.

“Motorists needing to access the interstate turn left on the on-ramp without having to stop for additional traffic signals or wait for oncoming traffic to pass. Motorists needing to drive straight through the intersection proceed through a second traffic signal and follow their lane back to the right side of the road. Pavement markings and signals direct motorists to where they need to go,” NCDOT says.

An example of a diverging diamond, this one at I-485’s Outer Loop.

Diverging diamonds are also cost-effective because already-existing bridges and land can often be resourced and upfit in a shorter period of time. Quicker construction means less of a negative impact on motorists.

Previously a cloverleaf, Exit 58 at I-85 is currently undergoing major changes. “Exit 58 will have two brand new bridges. It’s going to be a diverging diamond, but this one will have a lot more space so traffic can move more smoothly. The diamond moves traffic faster on and off the interstate,” Parker says.

Exit 60’s construction is limited at this point because utilities are being relocated. Parker says work to the new northbound loop is in progress. “Exit 60 will have a new flyover bridge over the interstate,” he says. “The southbound traffic will merge near the rest area and the loop will be closed. The existing bridge stays in place but will be widened with an extra lane.”

Flyover bridges are defined as overpasses built over an existing road or a railway. They utilize expansive concrete pillars to handle vehicle weight and are designed to efficiently handle large volumes of traffic; we’ve become accustomed to seeing them on local interstates.

The Exit 63 interchange at Lane Street will utilize yet another configuration. “Exit 63 will be roundabouts – one at each end of the bridge,” Parker says. There will be no traffic lights, keeping traffic flow moving.”

Roundabouts – or rotaries – are popping up all over this region. They can be defined as “circular intersections where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island. There are no traffic signals or stop signs in a modern roundabout. Drivers yield at entry to traffic in the roundabout, then enter the intersection and exit at their desired street.”

Highway 29-601 (Concord Parkway North)/S. Main Street

Once Blythe Construction is finished with the I-85 expansion, Parker and his crews will move on to Concord Parkway N. in the area fronting Carolina Mall and CHS-NorthEast. Congestion in this area has been ongoing for years to the point that synchronized traffic lights do little to help. Again, relocation of utilities like Duke Power, Windstream and Time Warner dictates when work can begin.

The plan in this corridor is to provide more turning lanes as well as alter the path that South Main Street (NC 29A) takes after it crosses I-85 from the north. This particular facet of the project has not set well with people like the Basile family, owners of the now-empty Tower Plaza across from the mall and hospital. The complex will be torn down as part of the South Main re-routing; about a half-dozen homes on Marietta Place near Central Drive have fallen victim to the new right-of-way as well. South Main will remain a two-lane street.

What the new roadway does do is take drivers off the section of 29-601 that stretches between Ridge Avenue and Mall Drive, thus reducing traffic congestion there. South Main will meander along the opposite side of the railroad tracks before crossing back over, going through the Tower Plaza site from behind and connecting to Mall Drive.

Ridge Avenue will dead-end east of I-85 with the bridge there being removed. Drivers coming east toward Concord – from the opposite side of I-85 – will be able to turn left onto the new Main Street bridge and come to the mall/hospital corridor that way.

Another trouble spot has been the intersection of Country Club Drive at Highway 29-601. Businesses in that specific vicinity have been vacated – some already demolished – and the enlarged intersection will see turn lanes to ease back-ups there.

An interesting feature of this project is the pedestrian tunnel that Parker explains will run between 29-601 and S. Main Street – under the railroad – allowing people to walk to the Rider Transit Center on South Ridge Avenue for easy access to the bus system.

Winecoff School Road Railroad Crossing

This is a difficult crossing to navigate, as motorists approaching the intersection from Ridge Avenue attempt to turn and cross the badly-graded tracks to South Main. Winecoff School Road will be re-routed along Tremont Avenue, the old railroad crossing will be closed and a roundabout will be built at Stewart Street that will connect to South Main and a new bridge over I-85.

Highway 29 and Poplar Tent Road

In the planning stages since 2010, Poplar Tent Road will finally become a superstreet if construction commences this fall as anticipated by Joe Wilson III, P.E., transportation director for the City of Concord. This project is a joint effort between Concord and the NCDOT.

A superstreet limits left turns, thus reducing emissions given off by idling vehicles. Drivers will drive through the intersection, then make a u-turn to turn right. The Poplar Tent Road/Odell School Road intersection is a completed superstreet.

Besides the concrete benefits these projects will give motorists traveling in Cabarrus County, Parker is quick to point out the local impact. Vulcan Materials Company on Poplar Tent Road is providing all the asphalt. And factor in the number of local suppliers, vendors, employees and subcontractors.

And while Parker says lane closures occur at night – and that most of the work on the 29-601 project will take place at night – speeding vehicles and dealing with the volume of traffic while getting his trucks and equipment in and out are the biggest dangers he encounters on the job. Please consider the safety of the workers making these road improvements for us; it’ll mean smoother sailing ahead.

Photos by: Michael A. Anderson Photography

Article by: Kim Cassell

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In Print, Community I 85 Construction
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