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Exit 49 stakeholders warn against gridlock

CONCORD -- Exit 49 stakeholders continued their push for road and infrastructure improvements Monday, meeting with a U.S. congressman and warning that traffic gridlock could choke off the area’s economic success.

Representatives from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Great Wolf Lodge, Embassy Suites Resort and Concord Mills Mall met with local leaders and 8th District U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson to ask for his help in their push for road projects including a flyover ramp to improve traffic flow into Concord Mills, pedestrian amenities along Concord Mills Boulevard.

Concord city leaders support a $5 million, two-lane grade separated directional left “flyover” to ease congestion on Concord Mills Boulevard, which has an annual average daily traffic count of about 42,000 vehicles.

They also support a $4 million plan to build pedestrian amenities like sidewalks and crosswalks and an already-funded project to widen Derita Road from Concord Mills Boulevard to Poplar Tent Road

Concord has offered a local $2.8 million match for improvements.

Exit 49 provides access to two of the largest tourist attractions in the state -- the mall and the speedway.

It’s “the busiest exit in the state of North Carolina,” said CVB president and CEO Donna Carpenter. “This is the cash register.”

“This destination is growing rapidly,” said Berkeley Young, president of Charlotte-based Young Strategies, which helped CVB develop a vision plan for the exit. As more businesses have flocked to the exit, Cabarrus County’s overall visitor spending numbers have risen to 12th in the state.

“You are in the big leagues,” Young said. “This is a major destination economically for the state, and it’s important that everybody think of it that way.”

Several problems stand in the way of future development, including traffic -- which often backs up from the mall entrances to I-85 during peak hours -- and pedestrian safety.

Several meeting attendees invoked Independence Boulevard, a major artery into Charlotte that has experienced negative economic impacts from persistent traffic problems.

“We can’t be Independence Boulevard,” Young said. “I think that’s about as good a phrase for how we want this not to be and what it could be if we don’t do something about it.”

It used to be a “tremendous economic driver” for the City of Charlotte, said Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

“The threat is we could be just like Eastland Mall and Independence Boulevard if we don’t take care of the traffic,” he said, adding traffic is the number one complaint at the speedway.

“Exit 49 is about an $800 million economic engine for the state,” he said. “It could easily be a billion. It could be two billion if we can see these problems taken care of.”

Hudson said federal DOT funds are controlled by the state, but he can help bring people to the table.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to show that there’s a level of support here that other communities may not have,” he said. He can “apply pressure,” using his “behind-the-scenes” experience to promote Concord’s Exit 49 agenda.

Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce president Patrick Coughlin said he appreciates Hudson for “putting your money where your mouth is.”

“That makes all the difference in the world,” he said. “That’s going to be very important to us in our economic development strategy.”

Concord leaders also have pushed the plan to the state legislative delegation. The Metropolitan Planning Organization has sent the improvement plan to Raleigh for review.

Concord Independent Tribune, by: Tim Reaves

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