Main entranceway into downtown still to be determined
(pictured above: NCDOT’s Jamille Robbins addresses locals.)
The public is still weighing in on a Business 40 improvement project that could close sections of the busy thoroughfare for up to two years.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials began informing local residents about the project, which is now slated to begin in 2016, in 2007, when a series of public meetings were held and residents were surveyed about various construction options.
A 1.2-mile section of the Business 40 corridor between West Fourth and Church streets will close for up to two years so that improvements to bridges and ramps can be made. Officials had floated a piecemeal option that would have kept at least a lane of the highway open during the construction process, said NCDOT Division Engineer Pat Ivey. That option would have taken at least six years and come with a higher price tag. Residents who were surveyed choose the current plan – the one that will virtually shutdown the highway.
“This project started on day one with an unprecedented public outreach campaign,” Jamille Robbins of the NCDOT’s Human Environment Section said at the latest public meeting about the project on July 24 at the Miller Recreation Center.
According to NCDOT numbers from 2011, 73,500 vehicles per day use Business 40. NCDOT’s policy is to not reroute traffic through residential areas for safety reasons. During construction, detours via non-residential roads will be utilized. Though the detour roads have not yet been determined, work is being done to make sure the city can handle the additional traffic.
The Liberty Street Bridge at US 52 has been replaced; improvements have been made to US 52 at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive; and the exits at 3rd, 4th and 5th streets have been closed permanently. Research Parkway, which connects Rams Drive and Third Street near the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is being built, as is the Salem Creek Connector, which will connect the parkway to MLK Drive. Improvements will also be made at the intersections of MLK Drive and Marshall/Cherry Street and Peter’s Creek Parkway and Academy Street. The City of Winston-Salem is also modernizing its traffic signal system to a fiber optic or wireless one.
Eleven structurally-deficient bridges are due to be replaced along Business 40. Robbins said the bridges are currently safe but will need replacing soon. The project will also reconstruct interchanges to make them longer, giving drivers more weaving room to get on and off the highway. The recommended weaving space on an interchange is 2,000 feet. The weaving sections on the current Business 40 interchanges are only between 150 and 300 feet. There also will be pavement rehabilitation to the roadway’s lanes.
The recent meeting was a chance for the public to chime in on other aspects of the improvement project. Business 40 will be lowered, according to NCDOT officials, at Liberty Street, creating a bridge that the highway will run under. Currently, Business 40 runs above Liberty.
The main Business 40 access point into downtown is still to be determined.
One option, which costs about $74 million and would involve relocating 30 residents, would make the Liberty/Main Street interchanges the primary. Another option costs close to $67 million and would involve the relocation of 32 residents; it would make the
Cherry/Marshall interchange the primary entranceway and eliminate the Liberty Street ramps. Under both plans, a business would be affected, as would 10 dwellings inhabited by minority residents. Federal dollars will cover 80 percent of the project’s cost; state money will pay for the rest.
Those who spoke at last week’s meeting unanimously supported the Cherry/Marshall option, including representatives of Wake Forest University, Salem College and Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem.
Larry Woods, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem and president of Forsyth Economic Ventures (a Housing Authority nonprofit) said Cherry/Marshall is the best entrance into Winston-Salem. The Housing Authority is located downtown on Fourth Street in the Loewy Building, which Forsyth Economic Ventures owns.
“It leads right into the theater district, right into eateries, easy access to the hospitals, better access to…the coliseum as well as the convention center and hotels,” Woods said.
Johnny Wilson agreed. He said he was drawn to the meeting by his interest in the changes and concern about how he’ll get around during construction. Though he expects the detours to create some difficulties, Wilson said the current construction on US 52 has inured him to commuting challenges.
“If I can get around this project that’s going on now, I can get around 40,” he said.
Robert Fowler said he will be happy when the improvements, including fixing Business 40’s “ridiculous ramps,” are made. He has concerns about rerouting traffic through the city, though.
“We’re going to have to bite the bullet for two years,” he said.
Public comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 919-212-5785. For information on the project, including how to join a working group for the project, visit busines40nc.com. The public comment period ends on Aug. 24.