by Daniel Schere

Council backs Cherry/Marshall plan for Business 40 | @Daniel_Schere

As plans for Business 40 continue to move along, city leaders appear to be one step closer to improving the freeway so many Winston-Salem residents rely on every day.

At their September 15 meeting, the city council unanimously voted to approve the option of keeping the Cherry Street and Marshall Street interchange open while closing the ramps to the interchanges at Liberty Street and Main Street. This would also close Business 40 access to Broad Street in an attempt to relieve congestion.

The council made the decision with very little discussion other than a mild warning from councilman Robert Clark about how deciding on which interchange to keep can have a large impact.

“This may be one of the most important decisions we make,” he said at the meeting.

The Cherry/Marshall option was also unanimously voted for by a task force made up of leaders from the downtown partnership and chamber of commerce, although chamber president Gayle Anderson said this was not a particularly partisan vote.

“The chamber itself did not take a position on the interchange because we felt as part of the task force that we should see to whatever the decision of the task force was,” she said.

Anderson said in addition to the Cherry/Marshall vote, the chamber also sent a list of recommendations to city council that included converting Liberty and Main streets to two-way traffic and traffic calming measures for other interchanges.

“We believe all of that needs to be done prior to the reopening of Business 40,” she said.

Choosing which interchange to keep is one step of many in a project that will improve a 1.2-mile stretch of Business 40 between Fourth Street and Church Street. The project will cost between $66 million and $74 million and will close this portion of the freeway for two years beginning in 2016.

Leaders of a number of cultural institutions have endorsed the Cherry/ Marshall option including Old Salem, UNC School of the Arts and the children’s museum. The leaders of these institutions hope to better connect the section of the city that lies south of Business 40 with downtown “” something that Old Salem Vice President of Restoration John Larson says is crucial to planning for the future.

“How do you, after all these decades of the city divided, divided by 52, divided by 40, how do you begin to knit the city back together? And this bridge project gives us the opportunity that is once in a lifetime, really, to try to seriously think about how this city is going to be laid out and how it’s going to work,” he said.

“Some people would think that the Main Street/Liberty Street would be Old Salem’s choice. But in reality with the new Salem Creek Connector coming in off of 52, which actually is trying to serve the major cultural institutions.”

Larson said he agrees that Liberty and Main streets should become two-way in order to integrate them into the city’s urban grid and make them more pedestrian friendly. He thinks this will help foster the growth of a “cultural corridor” that includes UNCSA, Old Salem, Salem College and Academy and the children’s museum. He said Cherry/Marshall works better as a thoroughfare when it comes to connecting commercial locations like sports venues to the rest of the city.

“If you’re trying to get to the convention center, the parking decks, the hotels Cherry/Marshall is the way to do it,” he said.

“If Main Street/Liberty Street had been chosen as a route, then there would have been basically two blocks of ramps and chasms and what have you to get across to connect Old Salem and points south of the downtown. And that’s something we’ve lived with since the 1950s when this road went in and it’s something we’re really trying to avoid now.”

Larson said he is not concerned about the closing of the Broad Street interchange because of its proximity to the Peters Creek Parkway interchange, which is much larger. He says he would like to see improvements made to the area surrounding BB&T Ballpark where that interchange is located.

“That area around the ballpark, as far as traffic patterns go, is not good, and there’s no reason why that connectivity can’t be improved without some rethinking about how First Street works,” he said.

Michael Penney, a project engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said they have not endorsed an alternative and will decide which to pursue by the first week of October.

“There’s advantages to both of them,” he said. “Both have plusses and minuses. They’re pretty much neck and neck.”

Penney said it is generally uncommon for the DOT to pursue a development strategy contrary to the wishes of a city or a municipality, but it has happened before.

“We appreciate council weighing in and providing us with a preference from their standpoint,” he said. “We’re glad to assist the city staff in providing their public works division, which is made up of council members, with all the information they needed to make their decision.”. !