Downtown Winston-Salem business owners prepare for Business 40 closure

Business 40 between Liberty and Cherry streets in downtown Winston-Salem
Project leaders with the NC Department of Transportation and a private consulting firm showed up at A/perture Cinema today to answer questions from downtown business people, some of whom are concerned that plans to temporarily close a section of Business 40 will prevent their customers from finding them.

The department will award a design-build contract for the project in 2016, and then immediately begin work on a new interchange at Peters Creek Parkway near BB&T Ballpark at the southwestern corner of downtown. Improvements to Peters Creek Parkway will be completed before the downtown section of Business 40 closes. The highway is expected to remain closed for two years and then reopen by 2020. In the meantime, the department must determine what to do with the 70,000 cars per day that regularly traverse Business 40 and figure out how to direct visitors into downtown Winston-Salem.

"With all the investment going on downtown, we don't want this to be a hindrance," said Pat Ivey, Division 9 engineer with the NC Department of Transportation. "We want visitors from both directions to know how to get to downtown and how to get back out."

Vivian Joiner, owner of Sweet Potatoes restaurant on Trade Street, expressed concern that if her staff has to give out-of-town customers directions that are too complicated during the temporary closure, they will stop coming. She found herself dissatisfied with the lack of clarity on that point.

Ivey told Joiner that the department is conducting complex traffic studies to get a sense of where people are going and where they're trying to get to, and is working with Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership to develop signage that will help people locate destinations such as the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, governmental buildings, restaurants and theaters. 

"We're not trying to be politically correct," he said. "The problem is we don't know."

After the meeting, Ivey gave a general sense of visitors will be able to get downtown while Business 40 is closed: Visitors traveling from the west will be able to exit on Peters Creek Parkway while those coming from the east will be able to take the Martin Luther King Jr. exit. In both cases, they'll be able to travel north and turn onto 4th and 5th streets to reach restaurants, governmental buildings, theaters and other destinations. 

Ivey said the project leaders are trying to determine how to shift as much through-traffic as possible onto Interstate 40 to the south. Responding to a question from the audience, he said there is no way that 4th and 5th streets will be converted to one-way streets.

"I can guarantee that doesn't happen; Gayle Anderson will make sure that doesn't happen," Ivey said, referring to the president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. "We cannot clog up 4th and 5th streets with a lot of commuter traffic. That's not what they're designed for anymore."

One major decision remains to be made between now and the start of construction. Based on public input, the department will mothball either the Liberty (southbound)/Main (northbound) Marshall (southbound)/Cherry (northbound) interchange. The Liberty/Main interchange is located closest to the government district, which includes City Hall, the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, the Forsyth County Government Center and the Hiram Ward Federal Building, while the Marshall/Cherry interchange provides more direct access to the Milton Rhodes Arts Center and the 4th Street restaurant row. 

Ivey said either scenario would work, and the department isn't leaning one way or another.

No matter which interchange is selected, all four bridges will remain open, providing north-south connectivity, but the roadways will be narrowed to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle paths. Project leaders are also looking into the feasibility of adding a separate bicycle route along Business 40.

"This is an extremely compressed time frame for what we have to do," Ivey said.

Learn more: Visit the NC Department of Transportation's website for the Business 40 improvement project.

Get involved: The bridge and design working group meets at the Mountcastle Forum at the Milton Rhodes Arts Center, located at 251 N. Spruce St., on Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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