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First beltway segment opens this fall

First beltway segment opens this fall

Winston-Salem Northern Beltway

Construction of the Northern Beltway is underway along New Walkertown Road on Thursday.

From Kernersville to the outskirts of Rural Hall, folks are watching N.C. 74 take shape.

N.C. 74, you say?

That’s what the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway will be called, at least until sometime in 2024, when the last segment of the eastern leg of the beltway is finished.

After that, N.C. 74 becomes Interstate 74 and will form part of a future Midwest-to-Atlantic coast freeway.

Photos: Construction on the Northern Beltway

“That will be the point where we get to sign that as I-74,” said Pat Ivey, the division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth County. “You will be able to go all the way from (the existing) I-74 to U.S. 52.”

A lot of people have been waiting a long time for the beltway. And not just motorists: Hundreds of landowners in the path of the project are finally getting bought out, after many of them filed suit earlier in the decade.

“The (transportation) department and the owners have been able to negotiate settlements acceptable to both sides,” landowners attorney Matthew Bryant said.

Bryant represented hundreds of clients who won a victory in 2016 at the N.C. Supreme Court, which declared that landowners had lost property rights by being designated in the path of the roadway.

Big road

The beltway will be a 35-mile freeway running some three-quarters of the way around Winston-Salem, from I-74 on the southeast side, north to U.S. 52 near Rural Hall, and back south to U.S. 158 near Clemmons.

The freeway will have three lanes in each direction on the eastern side, and two in each direction on the west.

Motorists have been watching the first segment of the beltway under construction between Business 40 and Reidsville Road since 2014, when the $154 million contract was awarded to Dragados USA Inc.

Ivey said people will be able to start driving on the 3.4-mile segment in November, although he doesn’t expect many drivers to use the road until the next segment opens between Reidsville and New Walkertown roads.

Scheduled for completion in June of 2021, that segment could open as early as the end of 2020, Ivey said. E.S. Wagner Co. LLC is handling that $33 million part of the beltway.

“That contractor is way ahead of schedule,” Ivey said, “In fact, right now the project is about 43% complete. All the major bridges, with the exception of the one right off 158, they’re done. That is actually the smallest of all the beltway projects.”

When the beltway is open between New Walkertown Road and Business 40, Ivey expects truck traffic especially to begin moving over to the new road.

Truck shift

Norfolk Southern railway operates a big auto distribution center in between Old Walkertown and New Walkertown roads in Walkertown. According to the Norfolk Southern web site, the 68-acre center has a capacity of 6,700 cars and operates 24 hours a day.

Ivey said that now, trucks from the center often travel on N.C. 66, going through Walkertown and Kernersville to get to Business 40 and points beyond. When the section of the beltway opens, linking New Walkertown Road with Business 40, Ivey said a lot of that truck traffic will use the new road.

“That will help us as we begin on widening N.C. 66 in Walkertown,” Ivey said.

The N.C. 66 widening starts construction in 2022.

The longest stretch of the beltway currently under contract for construction runs all the way from New Walkertown Road to University Parkway. It’s a 7-mile stretch being built by Flatiron Constructors, one of the companies doing the Business 40 renovation in downtown Winston-Salem.

Houses in the way are being torn down and land is being cleared. A lot of clearing can be seen on Germanton Road north of the Old Hollow Road intersection.

New intersection

One convenience store at the intersection is closed and soon to be torn down. The Speedway store on the southwest corner of the intersection will stay open until sometime in the last quarter of the year, according to Tony Williams, who was working at the store one day earlier this week.

“Three Fridays ago, a group came by to appraise the building,” Williams said. He added that the location is a good one, and stays busy. Customers are always asking how long it will be before construction takes the store away. The store is the kind of place where some people do more than just buy something and leave.

“You build relationships with people who have been here a long time,” Williams said. “People come by and hang out and converse. It is like a mini-Wal-Mart to people out in the country.”

Bobby Shore, dropping by the store one day last week, said he wishes the construction didn’t affect the side of the road where the Speedway sits.

“I like coming here because the employees pick on you and cut up with you,” Shore said. “They don’t treat you like a customer, they treat you like family.”

The work that takes out the Speedway includes a radical change for N.C. 8 where it will intersect the new beltway.

Start with the current intersection of Old Hollow and Germanton roads. The stoplight will be replaced with a roundabout, the first of three that drivers will encounter crossing over the beltway on N.C. 8.

Traffic circles at each end of the bridge carrying N.C. 8 over the beltway will allow motorists to get on and off.

That’s similar to the arrangement where the beltway crosses Baux Mountain Road — roundabouts on both ends of the bridge.

Once the beltway is complete from Business 40 to University Parkway, it will be another year until the interchange is ready that connects the beltway to U.S. 52 on the north side of Winston-Salem. The $134-million interchange is supposed to be ready by September of 2022.

And even that “is an aggressive timeline,” Ivey said.

Still farther out are the last two sections of the eastern leg of the beltway, the sections running south from Business 40 to I-74 on the southeast side of Winston-Salem.

New names

When that last link on the east is done, N.C. 74 becomes I-74, and I-74 will be a step closer to completion in North Carolina. Of course, Business 40 will be Salem Parkway and U.S. 421 when the downtown freeway renovation is complete in 2020.

When the beltway gets its I-74 designation, there will be a short leftover piece of freeway running from where I-74 now splits from I-40. Transportation officials say that short section of freeway will be designated N.C. 192.

That’s not the only new road number folks will have to remember: When sections of the western beltway leg start opening up during the next decade, they will initially be designated parts of N.C. 452.

But maybe not for long: the state is hoping to eventually designate the western leg as I-274.

Work on that western leg will go on into the 2030s, with the last segment scheduled — tentatively — to start construction in 2029. That last segment will connect the beltway to U.S. 158 on the southwest side of Winston-Salem toward Clemmons.

Before that, other western segments will be under construction from north to south: From U.S. 52 to N.C. 67 starting in 2023; from N.C. 67 to U.S. 421 west of Winston-Salem, in 2026; and from U.S. 421 to I-40 southwest of Winston-Salem, in 2028.

Beltway lawsuits

Bryant said that almost 210 of the more than 300 beltway property lawsuits have now been settled through negotiations with the N.C. Department of Transportation. Although the state for many years fought landowner claims, the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the landowners paved the way for settlements that are still going forward.

Landowners argued that when the state designated their lands as being in the path of the beltway, in 1997 and in 2008 under what was called the Map Act, it effectively took the properties from the landowners without any compensation.

Even after the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, the state was penalized in 2018 by a local superior court judge for foot-dragging on the property cases. Since then, Bryant said, the state has cooperated.

“They made a sound decision in our opinion to cooperate with the landowners and not fight them,” Bryant said.

South of Business 40, where most of the beltway property case owners live, Ivey said that the state has bought 62% of the properties it needs to acquire in between Business 40 and I-40. Further south, from I-40 to I-74, about 32% of the property needed for the road has been bought. Ivey noted that area does not have a lot of property owners.

Many residential areas along the future road are getting noise walls, and Ivey noted that even one farm bisected by the freeway is getting a noise wall, after highway officials went back and determined that the farm qualified.

Signs

Along with new freeway miles and highway designations, state highway officials are gearing up to install new signs.

One project will involve re-signing the split between I-40 and Business 40 in Guilford County, Ivey said.

Currently, he said, drivers bob and weave as they try to figure out which way they want to go: Winston-Salem is given as a destination on both signs. Not to mention the confusion that the two 40 designations creates, Ivey said.

That’s changing. I-40 will be signed as the way to Winston-Salem, and what is now Business 40 will be signed as U.S. 421 and Salem Parkway.

Ivey said a “supplemental sign” for Salem Parkway will note that the road also leads to downtown Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University.

With the completion of the beltway, I-74 will be complete from Winston-Salem southeast to the outskirts of Rockingham. Near Mount Airy, a completed section of I-74 connects to I-77.

Ivey said the hope is to eventually upgrade U.S. 52 between Winston-Salem and Mount Airy.

“At the very least, (we should have) enough ‘future’ signage to where everyone will know this is I-74,” Ivey said.

wyoung@wsjournal.com 336-727-7369 @wyoungWSJ

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