Local business leaders are pleading with shoppers and diners to continue patronizing their favorite Cornelius stores and eateries, despite the construction project at Interstate 77’s Exit 28.
Work to convert the exit into a “diverging diamond” interchange has created long traffic backups on Catawba and West Catawba avenues and Torrence Chapel Road. Merchants are reporting a significant loss of shoppers discouraged by the extra 20 to 40 minutes it takes to get to their doors.
The line of cars and trucks on Torrence Chapel Road grows so long because of the construction that it takes four or five light cycles – at least 10 minutes – to get onto West Catawba Avenue from businesses in the Shops on the Green retail center. .
Bill Russell, president and CEO of the Cornelius-based Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, said some customers are planning to hold off visiting their favorite store or restaurant until the new interchange opens in November and traffic clears.
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“The problem is, many businesses can’t sustain those lost sales and may not make it through this project without your support,” Russell told chamber members in an email.
The owners, managers and employees of Cornelius businesses “are your family, friends and neighbors,” Russell wrote. “Please take the extra 10 to 20 minutes it might take and visit these folks. ... The dollars you spend might save a job – perhaps a business.”
Last Thursday, Russell visited 57 businesses on Torrence Chapel Road with Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant to update them on the project and hear their concerns. Russell and Grant visited more businesses on Friday and are scheduled to visit others on Tuesday.
Grant told the Cornelius Board of Commissioners on Monday night that he and Russell have heard “a wide range” of thoughts from business owners, from those who said the road work hasn’t affected them to others who said it’s hurting their livelihoods.
State Department of Transportation officials promised at a meeting with town and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials last week to meet with the general contractor on the project, Blythe Construction of Charlotte, about speeding up the work.
Town officials said late Monday they haven’t heard back yet from the state. The good news, town officials said, is that the state intends to open up additional eastbound lanes on the Exit 28 bridge by mid-September and westbound lanes in October.
The $6.2 million project is expected to be finished in November.
At last week’s meeting with town and CMS officials, Louis Mitchell, DOT engineer for the Charlotte area, said DOT realizes traffic isn’t ideal.
“We do realize that, but it is one of the growing pains in converting to (the new interchange). Once we get the lanes open and traffic signals in synchronization, everybody will be pleased.”
At least 30,000 vehicles a day travel Catawba and West Catawba avenues, town officials said, and the diverging diamond will ease chronic backups and make the exit safer.
A diverging diamond intersection allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road while on the bridge. Once there on the left side of the road, vehicles can turn left onto the I-77 ramps without stopping or conflicting with through-traffic.
That makes such interchanges far safer than traditional interchanges and less traffic-clogged, transportation officials said.