Lenoir wants better option for Smith's Crossroads

Aug. 27, 2014 @ 08:58 AM

Lenoir officials hope to come up with better ideas than the state has proposed for replacing the interchange at Smith’s Crossroads, they said at the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday.

City officials have been clear since the N.C. Department of Transportation publicly unveiled the plan in May that they opposed it. The plan for a wide interchange and overpass would displace more than 20 businesses.

Councilman Ron Stilwell told Undrea Major, a project manager with NCDOT, that many of the businesses that would be displaced by the new interchange probably would not return.

“Has Raleigh looked in to ways to not totally destroy the economy in this location?” Stilwell asked.

Major, who met with the committee as well as other local business and government officials Tuesday morning, said the plan is not set in stone.

“Really, we’re just looking for ideas right now,” he said.

Major said the plan was designed to address projections of traffic in 26 years, though the traffic at the intersection may exceed DOT standards in less than six.

The plan is part of a longer-term project to widen U.S. 321 from U.S. 70 in Hickory to Lenoir. No construction dates have been set.

The interchange plan would “effectively condemn” the Lenoir Crossing Shopping Center on the southeast corner of the intersection, said Aaron Edwards of Venture Properties, which owns the property. He said Venture Properties has been talking to prospective tenants, but without a better plan in place, it’s “extremely difficult to recruit further business to the community.”

Stilwell said DOT needs to listen to local officials, something he said did not happen before construction began on the new interchange nearing completion on U.S. 321 at Hibriten Drive. That project was approved when the local furniture industry was thriving and fueling heavy truck traffic, but in the years before construction began those companies were severely cut, eliminating the need for the project.

“We petitioned pretty heavily the last two years,” Stilwell said, but those petitions fell on “deaf ears,” and the project went on as planned.

City Manager Lane Bailey said local officials hope for an option that could keep the surrounding business area intact but also ease future traffic congestion.

Major said something will eventually have to be done at the crossroads, and merely widening it is “not a long-term solution.”