Road work ahead

Road improvements coming to the region during the next few years, particularly along I-85, will improve transportation access in Cabarrus County, according to officials.

Gov. Bev Perdue held a news conference June 3 to announce the N.C. Department of Transportation's plans for an eight-lane stretch of I-485 in northeast Mecklenburg. The road will run from N.C. 115 to a planned interchange at I-85, south of Concord Mills mall.

Construction on the new stretch is expected to begin later this year, and it's expected to open in 2015.

The department also has plans to widen I-85 from Bruton Smith Boulevard to N.C. 73 in Cabarrus County beginning in early 2011.

Not only will additional lanes be added - it will become eight lanes rather than four - but the existing lanes along the 5.5-mile stretch will be reconstructed.

Improving access to development near Concord Mills and Charlotte Motor Speedway, as well as to the north near the International Business Park, was a priority, said Richard Hancock, a deputy division engineer with the DOT.

"It's important to keep that corridor moving," he said.

The project will also include improvements made to interchanges along I-85 at Poplar Tent Road and N.C. 73.

The interchanges will get new ramps, bridges and loops. While those improvements are being made, wide lanes designed for both bike riders and pedestrians will be added to Poplar Tent Road and N.C. 73. The city of Concord will contribute 40 percent of the cost of those lanes.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $200 million.

Construction on I-85 will cause traffic delays, but much of the work will be done at night. On some nights, construction crews might close the section of the interstate.

"U.S. 29 will feel the pains of the interstate project," said Joe Wilson, Concord's transportation director.

Residents might have to allow more time to get place to place or leave earlier to get to work, he said. N.C. 49 should help relieve traffic on U.S. 29, he said.

In the last five years, the city has implemented coordinated signal systems on N.C. 49, U.S. 29, N.C. 3 and other local roads. These systems will help move traffic without cars getting stopped at every light. But moving the increased volume down major thoroughfares will mean delays for drivers waiting to turn on them from side streets.

Construction plans will also address bottlenecked traffic at Concord Mills and Bruton Smith Boulevard.

"People sit and sit and sit," said Wilson. "It's gridlock."

Drivers leaving I-85 North at the Concord Mills exit back up on the ramp, causing slowdowns on I-85. Another left-turning lane will be added at the top of the ramp, and an additional left-turning lane from Bruton Smith Boulevard onto Weddington Road will also be constructed. The intersection at Bruton Smith Boulevard and Weddington Road handles 35,000 vehicles each day - 12.8 million vehicles per year.

Other road improvements will provide alternate routes to the interstate.

Derita Road in Concord, now a two-lane undivided road, will become a four-lane divided road, providing better access to Concord Regional Airport. Construction could begin in 2013. Once the new stretch of I-485 is completed, Derita Road will become a means to reach the new interstate, as well as an alternate to I-85, said Wilson.

Concord recently agreed to loan the state the money to keep another project on schedule: extend George W. Liles Parkway in Concord from Weddington Road across U.S. 29 to Roberta Road.

The extension will provide access to the interstate through the Philip Morris USA cigarette plant property. Construction on the more than $32 million extension is scheduled to begin in 2013.

Other major road improvements coming to Cabarrus County include:

Relocating Morehead Road by Charlotte Motor Speedway. The city will pay $1.5 million and the state will provide $3.5 million to move the road several hundred feet away from the speedway to reduce the number of pedestrians crossing the road during major events. The project also includes the construction of a bridge over Morehead Road for pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Construction will begin this year.

Redesigning the intersection of Poplar Tent at U.S. 29 to make it a "superstreet," a series of protected U-turns and right turns. Construction is expected to begin this fall.