SALISBURY — The Rowan County government is actively seeking funding that could help bring a new interstate interchange to East Spencer.
Last week, the Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead to county staff to request $500,000 in funding for the completion of an Exchange Rationale Report (IJR). The board also authorized Speaker Greg Edds to write to North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Sen. Phil Berger to advocate for the funding, which would be led by the state.
“We will argue that this is worthy of the provident fund spending,” Edds said.
The county is trying to expedite a process that began several years ago when commissioners and planning staff reviewed the I-85 corridor looking for places to emphasize road development for economic projects. . One area identified was the intersection of I-85 with Correll Street and McCanless Road.
“We looked at McCanless and thought, ‘There’s an opportunity for a few things,'” Edds said.
Edds said an interchange there is desirable not only because it would give travelers a more direct route to Dan Nicholas Park and High Rock Lake, but also because it would help generate economic development in East Spencer.
“Going west, you could really give East Spencer their own big entrance and really create new opportunities for them there,” Edds said.
Additionally, Edds said the interchange would prevent trucks traveling to and from industrial businesses in East Spencer from idling on Long Street and contributing to traffic on Innes Street. The interchange would probably be exit 78 or 77 due to its proximity to these kilometer posts.
The county presented the interchange project to the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2019. Since then, Edds said the project has “gained momentum,” but stressed that projects of this nature only move forward. not quickly.
The NCDOT completed a “very preliminary” design plan for the project which determined that the interchange project will cost approximately $24 million. NCDOT Division 9 engineer Pat Ivey said the project is currently unfunded.
The county’s original goal was to include the project in the state’s 2024-2033 Transportation Improvement Plan. However, the only projects included in the plan are those currently underway. This is due to a lack of available funding, Ivey said.
Ivey said the next opportunity for the county to have the project reviewed by NCDOT is summer 2023, when the submission window opens for the state’s 2026-2035 transportation improvement plan. Even then, Ivey said the “best case scenario” would be for work on the project to begin in the 2030s — unless the county secures another source of funding.
“It would be different if there was an additional source of funding, say there was a grant or a trust provided by Congress or something like that,” Ivey said. “It could affect the timeline of the project, because it could possibly be done sooner.”
The project would still need to be included in the NCDOT’s state transportation plan to utilize any outside funding the county obtains.
Securing federal funding for the project is exactly what the county hopes to accomplish. But first, the county says it must conduct the exchange justification report. An IJR ensures that a new interchange would not cause any safety or operational issues along the interstate corridor. Ivey said an IJR is usually not complete until a project is funded, so it would be different from the normal process.
If the county is successful in getting the half million needed for the IJR, Ivey said the state can move forward with that part of the planning.
“If the commissioners provide funding or find funding to do something like (IJR), we can certainly do that and would work with the Federal Highway Administration to put this study together,” Ivey said.
Edds described the effort to bring a new interchange to East Spencer as an “everyone on deck” endeavor. In addition to rallying support from local leaders and lawmakers, Edds said the county has asked its new state and federal lobbyists to put the exchange project at the top of their list of priorities.
“We get tremendous help from federal lobbyists, state lobbyists,” Edds said.
Since January, Strategics Consulting has represented county interests in Washington DC and McGuireWoods has worked for Rowan in Raleigh.
For East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett, a new interchange can’t come soon enough. Mallett said the interchange would provide better interstate access for several East Spencer businesses and new residents who may soon be moving into new homes being built in the city.
“We’re looking forward to this project because it’s really going to take us to another level,” Mallett said. “Even though we have climbed this far, we want to take it to another level.”