Commuters and residents visualize life without Business 40

by Jordan Green JordanGreenYES

As the NC Department of Transportation’s temporary closure of Business 40 gradually approaches — it’s currently scheduled for early 2017 — Winston-Salem businesses and residents are identifying new routes to carry traffic loads.

“We want to get people to understand that downtown is alive and well, and open for business,” Winston- Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson said. “Come on downtown for the restaurants and everything else we have to offer.”

Business 40 diverges from Interstate 40 east of Kernersville in Guilford County and reconnects in southwest Winston-Salem near Hanes Mall. The four-lane divided highway brings almost 150,000 people in and out of Winston-Salem every day and passed below the southern foot of downtown just a block south of City Hall. An improvement project and temporary closure affects a 1.2-mile downtown stretch between Church Street and Peters Creek Parkway.

Pat Ivey, Division 9 engineer for the NC Department of Transportation (or NC DOT) said the Salem Creek Connector, a new southern gateway, will be completed before the downtown section of Business 40 is closed. The Salem Creek Connector will have an interchange on Highway 52 south of Winston-Salem State University and feed vehicles into downtown near City Hall and the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

That came as news to Anderson. “What they hadn’t put in is information about Salem Creek Connector and when it’s going to be finished,” she said. “That is going to be a major way in where people will be redirected to what we call ‘Big 40’ and come up through the Salem Creek Connector.”

A joint task force of the chamber of commerce and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership plans to meet with NC DOT this week to receive information on the traffic impact of the closure. Anderson said the task force includes representatives of major employers in downtown, including Wells Fargo, BB&T and Reynolds American.

“There is absolutely no uncertainty that [the Salem Creek Connector] will be completed before Business 40 is let,” Ivey said.

NC DOT plans show traffic loads on the southern portion of Highway 52 increasing from 89,000 to 103,700. Traffic on East Salem Avenue, which will funnel vehicles from the Salem Creek Connector to East 1 st Street, will nearly quadruple from 3,500 to 13,800 trips.

Similarly, traffic on East 5 th Street which feeds off Highway 52 is set to quadruple from 4,200 to 18,300.

On the west end, traffic on Peters Creek Parkway is expected to triple from 8,500 to 25,400, as it feeds vehicles in and out of downtown at the western terminus of the project area.

The temporary closure of Business 40 is likely to impose the heaviest impact on employees of Wells Fargo and the city of Winston-Salem, who rely in large part on the North Main Street exit to get to work, along with employees of BB&T, who similarly utilize the North Cherry Street exit.

Josh Dunn, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, said that for security reasons the bank doesn’t disclose numbers of employees at specific locations. He said the bank has not made a final determination on what action, if any, should be taken to prepare for the closure.

“We are still in the information gathering stage,” he said. “Certainly this is on our radar screen.”

Representatives of BB&T and the city could not be reached for comment for this story.

About 430 city work at City Hall and the Stuart Municipal Building, located on either side of 1 st Street on North Main. City Manager Lee Garrity pointed out that they park in a garage at Church and 4 th streets, putting them in close proximity with the 5 th Street interchange on Highway 52.

Plans for the temporary shutdown have included a study of intersection quality. Out of 88 downtown intersections, 10 currently need improvement, said Pat Ivey, Division 9 engineer for NC DOT. As an illustration of deficiencies, drivers might find themselves waiting for a light to turn green only to have it turn back to red before they make it across the intersection. With the additional strain on the traffic grid from the closure of Business 40, the number of deficient intersections is expected to increase to 15 or 16.

To ease congestion, NC DOT is considering adding turn lanes at four locations along Peters Creek Parkway and Broad Street, which act as a chokepoint for traffic in the southwest corner of downtown near BB&T Ballpark. Ivey said, the state would reimburse the city for the cost of adding turn lanes.

The planned closure has also caused anxiety south of Business 40, where Academy Street is the only significant east-west connector before Silas Creek Parkway. The traffic load on the street, which connects Salem College to Ardmore, is expected to double from 6,500 to 13,100 vehicles per day.

Insouk Ko, who owns Rodem Clean-ers on Academy Street at Peters Creek Parkway, attended the public workshop at the Enterprise Center with her daughter, Dahee Hwang.

“There are only two lanes on Academy Street,” Hwang said. “If 40 is closed, we are expecting more people to drive on Academy Street. This is going to cause a problem. Our customers are complaining today that they have to wait to get out of our drive-through.”

Hwang added that 98 percent of the dry-cleaning business’ customers use the drive-through, and they sometimes wait up to 20 minutes to get back on the street.

Underscoring Hwang’s concern, a downtown resident in one of the breakout sessions used a marker to draw a green line along Academy Street on an oversized map, illustrating how she would get to Thruway Shopping Center.

Hwang suggested that Academy Street be widened to four lanes to accommodate the extra cars. Ivey said later that NC DOT is not considering widening the street to four lanes, but the agency has plans for further study in the area and might recommend adding turn lanes at a public workshop in February.

If vehicular traffic is likely to be strained by the temporary closure, some residents worry that pedestrians and cyclists will absorb an even heavier brunt.

“When you identify the streets that are going to have more traffic, there are many streets that are already not friendly to pedestrians and cyclists,” said Kelly Green Sowers, an Old Salem resident. “When you have students from UNC School of the Arts and Salem College, what happens to them when they try to bicycle or walk on these streets?”