Perdue touts highway projects

State and local officials say the major highway projects under way in the area will keep Cabarrus County, Concord and Charlotte moving forward.

At a news conference Jan. 9 at Lane Construction Corp.'s Concord office, Gov. Bev Perdue said the N.C. Department of Transportation will finish the Interstate 485 loop, widen Interstate 85 in Cabarrus and build three interchanges that are firsts for North Carolina.

When Perdue took office, these projects were scheduled to begin in 2013. The projects were accelerated through a process called Design, Build, Finance, which brought in lower bids and saved the state $130 million. It also added about 400 jobs.

Officials now say the I-85 widening in Cabarrus should be finished in November 2013, and the I-485 loop should be finished in December 2014.

About seven miles of I-85, from Bruton Smith Boulevard to N.C. 73, will be converted from a four-lane to an eight-lane freeway. The turbine interchange being built at I-485 near Mallard Creek Church Road is one of only a handful in the nation.

The diverging diamond interchanges, being built at the I-85 crossings of Poplar Tent Road and N.C. 73, also are firsts for the state.

"After being in and out of Charlotte the way I've been the last 10 years, it made no sense to me at all that we wouldn't figure out a way to put these projects together and expedite them," said Perdue. "If we sat around waiting for the old way of doing things to allow us to do these three projects, I'm not sure we would have started in 2016 or 2017.

"Two years ago we said we'd figure out a way to get over the last hurdles for these three major projects and that we'd try to do them around the same time, so that folks who live in this area could actually see progress on the problems they encounter every morning and every evening going to and from work."

Local leaders say the projects will help move goods and people more efficiently and make it more attractive to businesses looking to relocate.

About $180 million worth of traffic projects are being completed in Cabarrus County, said John Cox, president and CEO of Cabarrus Economic Development and the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"When you have $180 million circulating through the economy, no matter the source, it's always good," said Cox. "When you get to move goods and commerce to businesses faster, that's better for business.

"When vendors have an easier opportunity to get to your business, you're going to do more business. Ultimately, the people who win are the citizens of Cabarrus County, the citizens of North Carolina and businesses in this region."

The projects, officials say, are long overdue.

"The widening of I-85 has been a transportation improvement project for 20 years," Cox said. "We've been saying for two decades 'we want it, we need it,' and now we just have to bear with situation. (Traffic problems during construction are) just a momentary blip, but that's the price that major metros pay for the kind of growth that we need and that we need to continue to see."

Officials also praised the innovation behind the projects. NCDOT officials are forecasting about 200,000 trips a day to go through the turbine interchange.

"This certainly is an exciting time. I've been with DOT for 26 years, and it's been a long time since we've had this much construction going on in a concentrated area all at one time," said Barry Moose, division engineer for NCDOT Division 10, which covers Cabarrus County. "The turbine interchange will enable traffic to flow at freeway speeds, 60-plus miles per hour, without conflict."

Jen Thompson, also with NCDOT Division 10, said the goal is to keep traffic moving during construction.

"If you've noticed with the I-85 project, we've shifted traffic to the outside, but we still have two lanes running," said Thompson. "Once the inside lanes are done, traffic will shift again while the outside lanes are completed.

"This is an integral corridor," added Thompson. "It's a critical need that we have - not just for Charlotte, but for the whole state - to keep traffic and goods moving on I-85.

"We're also trying to secure money right now to widen the next section of I-85, which would take you up to exit 63 into Rowan County."