NCDOT unveils Smith's Crossroads proposal

May. 21, 2014 @ 10:49 AM

A proposed overhaul of Smith's Crossroads would ease traffic flow but would change the face of the city there, forcing the relocation of all of the businesses from Rite Aid and Burger King north to Mayflower Seafood and Bojangle's, and on the north side of Wilkesboro Boulevard all the way to ALDI.

The N.C. Department of Transportation presented preliminary designs Tuesday to a group of local officials. The plan proposes construction of what is called a "diverging diamond" interchange, one that allows eliminating left turns from crossing oncoming traffic and can move higher volumes of traffic without increasing the number of lanes or traffic signals.

The interchange is part of a larger proposed U.S. 321 widening project, making it six lanes from U.S. 70 in Hickory to Smith's Crossroads. Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2020, though it is not likely to begin that soon, said Undrea Major, a project manager for NCDOT. There is no cost estimate for the project.

And the project may not happen at all, Major said, if another solution appears to be more feasible, such as a bypass around Lenoir, which also is under consideration.

Tuesday’s meeting was “designed to see the potential for impacts,” Major said, and gain feedback on the concerns of local officials.

Lenoir City Manager Lane Bailey said he had concerns about the number of businesses and residences the interchange could affect, as well as the Lenoir Greenway.

Radford Thomas, Lenoir's director of public utilities, worried that the interchange could carry steep costs to the city for relocating utility lines, as happened where the new interchange is being built at U.S. 321 and Hibriten Drive. That utility work is costing the city about $1 million.

“There’s a lot of stuff in the ground,” Thomas said. “(We’d) like to leave it where it is.”

The improvements are an effort to alleviate traffic congestion along the route. In 2011, 31,000 cars per day traveled U.S. 321 north of U.S. 64, and projections estimate it will grow to 53,700 a day by 2040.

The proposal would realign the intersection of Morganton Boulevard and Harper Avenue as well as the crossroads. In addition to the 20 existing business buildings that are in the footprint of the proposed work, as many as 17 residences nearby might have to be condemned.

Officials stressed the preliminary nature of the plan, which must still make it through the state’s new ranking system for highway projects, the State Transportation Improvement Program. Once it receives a ranking there, that would determine how soon construction could start. Officials expect word on that later this year, Major said.

Public information meetings on the proposal are tentatively slated for June but may be pushed back to next spring.