Some Cornelius commissioners are unhappy over the NC Department of Transportation’s plan to stretch out construction of a new Exit 28 interchange to as long as two years. At the Town Board meeting Monday night, Commissioner Chuck Travis said he finds it “incredible” that work will take that long, and he urged the town staff to press the DOT to shorten the project.
EXIT 28 RECONSTRUCTION
The DOT Is planning to rebuild the I-77 overpass into what’s called a “diverging diamond interchange,” or DDI. Under the new design, the eastbound and westbound lanes of Catawba Avenue actually will cross over one another in a new traffic pattern that’s supposed to improve traffic flow and make entering and exiting the highway smoother.
The board voted 5-0 on Monday to approve an agreement with DOT that will govern how the town and state will cooperate on the $6.2 million project. Among other things, the contract covers the town’s planned aesthetic improvements and the burial of utility lines. NCDOT says it will pay what it would cost to relocate aerial utility lines to another aerial location. The town wants to bury the utility lines, and so it will pay the difference, which is estimated at $291,738. The utilities involved are Energy United, Time Warner Telecom, MI-Connection, and AT&T.
That new estimate of the utility line costs was the subject of a second item up for a vote Monday, which the board also approved 5-0. Commissioners unanimously approved adding $300,000 (for the utility line burial) to this year’s town budget. They also voted on amending the capital budget for the Exit 28 project, setting it at $500,000 for initial architecture, design, engineering, construction, and project management, plus the $300,000 for utility burial.
The Town of Cornelius is planning a simultaneous $2 million project (part of the $6.2 million total cost) to improve the appearance of the overpass, making it a “gateway” to town. Plans call for a nautical-themed design with decorative bridge abutments, 5-foot lanterns at four corners, a central pedestrian walkway on the bridge, and trees and other plantings.
The DOT expects to award contracts next month.
TWO YEARS = TOO LONG
Town officials learned earlier this month that the DOT plans to do most construction work at night to limit traffic disruption, but the project could take 2 years. (See Aug. 9, 2013, “Most Exit 28 reconstruction will be at night, but could take 2 years.”) That brought back unpleasant memories of the orange construction barrels that lined West Catawba Avenue several years ago, affecting business all along the town’s main thoroughfare.
Travis said he finds the DOT’s 2-year schedule “incredible” and said it would have a big impact on Cornelius. He noted that the DOT’s I-77 widening project through the Lake Norman area is envisioned as only a 2 1/2 year project.
“This is an issue we’ve got to address,” he said. “It’s a barricade in front of our town for two years. Yes, traffic may be flowing … (but) it will have a significant impact to our residents and our businesses.”
He told Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant to push the DOT to reconsider the time frame. “As a town, I just think this is something we can’t accept … I mean I’d rather spend our $2 million as an incentive to get it done faster than on the aesthetics,” Travis said.
Commissioner Dave Gilroy agreed.
“As a lay person it just defies common sense,” Gilroy said. He said a citizen suggested that the town consider allowing Catawba Avenue to be fully closed to allow the construction. While that road closure would be painful, it could allow the project to be done faster, he said.
Grant said state officials have been “pretty blunt”: They don’t want to do work during the daytime.
“I share your frustration,” Mayor Lynette Rinker told Travis. She said the town had asked the DOT to plan a project that would avoid disruption, and the night work schedule would help. She said the town should be careful not to alienate DOT officials by rejecting something it had previously asked for.
Grant told the board he will be meeting with DOT officials soon to discuss the schedule. He expects more informaiton at the next Town Board meeting, in early September.
Read more about the Exit 28 project in our Aug. 9 project update on CorneliusNews.net