As the landscape along Old Concord Road undergoes drastic changes to allow passenger and freight rail improvements, one local official said despite public meetings held years ago, the community has been caught off guard by the scope of work and lack of information relayed by project leaders.
The work along portions of the North Carolina Railroad corridor in University City are part of projects in the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division’s larger Piedmont Improvement Program, officials said.
PIP consists of about 20 small projects that extend from Raleigh to Charlotte and will improve the safety, capacity and reliability of train travel, said DOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson.
Greg Phipps, Charlotte City Councilman for District 4, said the work that began last summer has sparked a slew of questions from constituents, prompting him to host a community meeting April 8. Railroad officials last held a public meeting in December 2011, he said.
“It’s just a huge project that caught people off guard ... I don’t think people realized the scope and the scale of it,” Phipps said.
In 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded the state a $545 million grant provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Of that money, $520 million directly funds PIP, Thompson said, to do things like build bridges, make certain curves safer and build double tracks in heavily congested areas where freight and passenger trains travel.
These changes will add two more daily Amtrack runs to the Charlotte-Raleigh schedule for a total of five trips, according to the DOT. Ridership on state-sponsored trains has seen an increase and in 2012, the Piedmont service from Charlotte to Raleigh was No. 1 in the national Amtrack system for growth.
And since all trains use all tracks, DOT officials said, improvements could lead to more freight partners and businesses, which in turn could lead to job growth.
Two local projects that have already broken ground are affecting the University area: the Harrisburg to Charlotte double track improvements and the Grier Road grade separation.
The Grier Road project will improve safety and reduce congestion by building a new highway bridge over the railroad, according to the DOT, as well as close the at-grade crossing at Newell-Hickory Grove Road.
The project was awarded to Blythe Development in June 2013 for $13.7 million and construction began in July 2013. Work could be complete in summer 2016, Thompson said, but there have been delays due to right of way acquisition and utility work.
Linda Durrett, spokeswoman for the Charlotte Department of Transportation, said part of the project will temporarily close Old Concord Road to elevate it by about 40 feet to meet the elevation of the new bridge.
But the city provided additional funding to ensure bicycle lanes and sidewalks are provided on the bridge, as well as a multi-use path along project limits at Old Concord Road, Durrett said.
The Harrisburg to Charlotte double track improvements will lay 12 miles of a second track between Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties that will reduce congestion and allow trains to pass more frequently, according to the DOT. That includes a two-track railroad bridge over the future extension of Mallard Creek Church Road, as well as upgraded crossings at Back Creek Church, McClean and Orr Roads.
The project also will realign curves to increase train travel speeds and decrease travel time, according to project officials.
The contract was awarded to Crowder Construction for $24.9 million in August 2013, according to the DOT. Construction began the same month and is scheduled to be finished in May 2017. The contractor could begin laying beams for the Rocky River bridge as early as April 7, Thompson said.
Recent work most likely noticed by area residents and motorists has included clearing and grubbing, as well as preparing the new Grier Road bridge embankment, Thompson said. The Grier Road project also required nine homes and one business be purchased or relocated.
Phipps said project officials didn’t have a definite time on when another community meeting would be held, so he asked to partner with the April 8 Autumnwood neighborhood meeting. A brief project update will be given, Phipps said, and a DOT engineer will be available to answer specific questions.
For those unable to attend, Phipps hopes to get an updated newsletter that describes the process going forward. That information could be posted on the city’s website, as well as mailed to affected communities. “Just to keep them updated on when the next big meeting on this will occur.”