A major construction project along the U.S. 601 business corridor in Mount Airy — to implement what’s been called a “superstreet” concept — again has been delayed, which is either good or bad news depending on one’s perspective.
Based on earlier plans by the N.C. Department of Transportation, which maintains the major route also known as Rockford Street, a contract for the work was scheduled to be let in June 2023.
However, the DOT reported this week that the project has been pushed back until Fiscal Year 2025 — meaning construction won’t begin until sometime after July 1, 2024 when that fiscal year begins, the agency’s Division 11 Engineer Michael Poe confirmed Thursday.
This roughly one-year delay has transpired through revisions made by the state Board of Transportation to North Carolina’s Transportation Improvement Plan for 2020-2029. The board did so to allow additional time for right-of-way acquisitions for property needed along the local project’s path — from U.S. 52 to Forrest Drive (SR 1365) near Walmart.
Poe, whose Division 11 district is based in North Wilkesboro and includes Surry and seven other area counties, explained Thursday that no particular right-of-way problems out of the ordinary have been encountered with the U.S. 601 upgrade.
He said the construction postponement reflects lingering issues that caused earlier delays of DOT projects in general, due to COVID-19 and funding limitations, including disrupting the acquisition process.
“We basically had to start over with — updating all the appraisals,” Poe said of a key step in that process. “It’s just a lot of work.” The same issues have derailed similar efforts around the state, the Division 11 engineer says.
The most recent delay is on top of others for the Mount Airy project that originally was scheduled to be under construction in 2020.
It is anticipated to cost $11.7 million.
Major changes involved
DOT officials have said that what commonly is known as the superstreet project will introduce a raised median configuration along U.S. 601 to re-direct or restrict left turns and across-the-highway movements.
Side-street travelers wanting to cross U.S. 601 or turn left onto it, for example, would need to first go right and then make a U-turn at a safe location to reach desired destinations in those directions.
The raised concrete medians will replace the present center turn lane along Rockford Street. It is virtually uncontrolled and linked to high accident and fatality rates in the U.S. 601 business corridor that has seen tremendous growth and increased traffic, prompting the DOT to prescribe the change.
In one recent 12-month period, 145 traffic accidents occurred at various intersections from U.S. 52 to Forrest Drive, according to statistics compiled by Bonnie Overby, records administrator for the Mount Airy Police Department,
Forty-six of those accidents were in the area of U.S. 601 and U.S. 52, with 29 logged at U.S. 601 and Forrest Drive. Other trouble spots included U.S. 601’s intersection with Reeves Drive (19 accidents), Edgewood Drive (18), Stewart Drive (13) and Mountain View Drive (11), with smaller numbers occurring elsewhere along that route.
One fatality was reported for that annual period, involving a crash at U.S. 601 and Reeves Drive.
Although the upcoming construction will cause a major upheaval to the U.S. 601 corridor which will be long in duration, observers agree that some remedy is needed for what has become the busiest section of town.
This was determined by highway engineers to be the change to a superstreet.
“I think overall it would promote a safer and more efficient flow of traffic,” Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson has said. “So I think it would serve to make a safer roadway.”
But Watson says an adjustment to the new configuration will be needed by motorists.
Local citizens, including business owners in the project’s path, gave mixed reviews to the U.S. 601 improvement plan during a public meeting in November 2019 at Reeves Community Center.
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