City Council not on board with plan for crossroads

Jun. 24, 2014 @ 04:39 PM

City leaders made their opinion on the state's proposed Smith's Crossroads replacement clear Tuesday: They don’t want it.

The proposal, called a “diverging diamond” interchange, would ease traffic congestion on U.S. 321 but would displace more than 20 businesses along the U.S. 321 corridor, from Rite Aid and Burger King to Mayflower Seafood and Bojangle’s, and on the north side of Wilkesboro Boulevard almost to ALDI. Officials from the N.C. Department of Transportation displayed the plans at a public information meeting in Hudson in May.

At Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, city council members questioned the need for project, its design and its impact on businesses. Mayor Joe Gibbons said that many of the businesses probably would simply close rather than find a new location.

Gibbons noted that the May meeting, DOT officials said that there currently is not funding for the proposal.

“(The project) is way down the list,” he said. “Our feeling is we hope you don’t find any funding for it.”

The interchange is part of a larger project to widen U.S. 321 from U.S. 70 in Hickory all the way to Smith's Crossroads. Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2020, though it likely will not start that soon, and funding has yet to be allocated.

Council members will send a letter to DOT detailing the city’s concerns and asking for alternative plans.

Planning director Jenny Wheelock said the Smiths Crossroads project scored only a 17 out of 100 on the state’s new system that scores projects by factoring in the cost, the amount of congestion in the area and other factors.

Council member Ron Stilwell questioned the NCDOT projections, using the new interchange that is under construction along US 321 in Whitnel as an example, which was built to accommodate industrial truck traffic that never materialized.

“I just think we have to be very vocal, very active,” Stilwell said, urging citizens to write their state representatives.

City officials discussed a number of specific complaints about the proposal, including that it could deter drivers from stopping in Lenoir, whether an exit sign would say "Downtown Lenoir," that it wasn't clear how traffic coming from downtown would flow onto the new interchange and whether the new interchange at the crossroads could actually make congestion worse at U.S. 321 and Hospital Avenue, which now is the intersection with the most wrecks in the city.