By Alyssa Pressler
For approximately 500 days, it’s going to be more challenging to run a business in central Winston-Salem. In mid-November, the state closed a 1.2-mile stretch of U.S. 421 and Interstate 40 Business, often called “Business 40,” as part of a multiyear plan to build a safer, less-curvy thoroughfare adjacent to the Twin City’s revitalized downtown.
“If I was a small-business owner, I would be concerned,” says Karen Simon, a local transportation consultant hired by the state and city to inform the public about the project. “I think the big businesses are more concerned about the detours. Smaller businesses are more worried about the bottom line.”
The next phase of the $99.2 million project involves closing the highway from west of Fourth Street to east of Church Street, diverting traffic to side streets not accustomed to the more than 6,000 vehicles that travel through the section every day. Excessive rain delayed the closure in November, though Business 40 Resident Project Engineer Mezak Tucker says the project is still on track to finish by summer 2020.
To speed construction and limit negative impact, the project involves a design-build process in which a team of designers and contractors is responsible for the work from start to finish, seeking innovative ways to save time and money. Finishing faster means more compensation for the builders, so the goal is now closer to 14 months, Simon says. A joint venture of Broomfield, Colo.-based Flatiron Constructors and Charlotte-based Blythe Development leads the project with Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Engineering.
Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership President Jason Thiel believes the first few months will be rocky while residents and employers adjust. He urges companies to communicate detours with their customers and then hang tight for a bit — in other cities with similar projects, business usually stabilizes after about three months.
Larger employers are also staggering work shifts and scheduling nighttime truck deliveries. Local transportation companies are offering discounts for van-sharing and park-and-ride services, hoping to reduce traffic.
Built in 1958 and originally called the East-West Expressway, Business 40 was the first section of interstate highway designated in North Carolina. A bypass that became the official Interstate 40 was completed in 1992. More wrecks and more traffic prompted the downtown improvement project, following years of debate.
“Once the road is rebuilt, all of the pain with the construction will be worth it,” Thiel says. “It wasn’t something we could put off any longer.”