Rutherford Weekly

November 30, 2023

Rutherford Weekly - Shelby NC

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(Note: The following was written by Michael Mcelroy and was originally published Oct. 27 in Cardinal & Pine, a news media outlet. The article is used with permission). Funding from the Biden administration will help Spindale and Rutherfordton transform the congested thoroughfare between them into a pedestrian-friendly 'complete street' rarely seen in rural areas. The walk along Main Street in Rutherfordton, a town older than the Constitution, takes you past ice cream and fudge shops; a barber and a children's museum; and a tiny park with fl ower gardens, fairy lights, and benches in the shade. Take a similar walk in Spindale, just down the road, and you'll fi nd a barbeque restaurant, a killer coffee spot, a bike shop, and Barley's Taproom, the kind of place where town leaders say everyone knows your name. These idyllic small town Main Streets are two miles apart, but the walk between them is no easy stroll. The main thoroughfare linking these sister towns in rural Western North Carolina is congested, crumbling, and not at all built for pedestrians or bicyclists. The corridor is a longstanding infrastructure headache that snarls traffi c, dilutes tourism, and endangers commuters. Local offi cials have tried to fi x the problems for years, but signifi cant infrastructure improvements aren't cheap, especially in rural communities which have much smaller budgets than the big cities. Now, however, leaders in both towns say this entire corridor is on track to be the envy of the state by 2027. What a difference a $20 million federal grant can make. Spindale and Rutherfordton received a RAISE grant in 2022, through the Biden Administration's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to not just fi x this stretch, but transform it. The money is part of the $4.9 billion in federal infrastructure funding that has already been spent or earmarked for North Carolina. Town leaders won the grant through a detailed plan to turn their 2.5 mile corridor of danger and delay into a "Complete Street," a concept that factors cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, traffi c fl ow, and environmental concerns into the design. The plan will make it easier for pedestrians to cross busy streets, add benches and fl owers, connect two major greenway biking paths, ease traffi c patterns, improve emergency response time, build Electric Vehicle infrastructure, reduce stormwater runoff, increase access to grocery stores and drug stores, revitalize the sidewalks and public transit spaces, draw more visitors to local businesses, separate bicyclists and pedestrians from road traffi c, lower vehicle emissions and create a seamless corridor of mobility, safety, equity, and beautifi cation from one town to the next. In short, it's a big deal. "This project is going to have one of the greatest impacts in our communities in many generations," Rutherfordton's Town Manager Doug Barrick said in an interview with other local leaders this summer at Rutherfordton's Town Hall. Barrick and Spindale's town manager, Scott Webber, took the lead in writing the grant application. "It's going to be the catalyst for so many things," Webber said. The project will spur further economic development, they said, complement existing redevelopment projects, and work in tandem with efforts to improve access to affordable housing. "It's really going to be a unique project," Webber said, "and something that rural parts of North Carolina just don't get very often." ---THE PROBLEM--- The project isn't just cool, they said. It's needed. The Biden administration required that any project approved for RAISE grants under the infrastructure law had to help "historically disadvantaged communities," areas that constantly have 20 percent poverty rates or more. Several neighborhoods in the project area meet this metric. Whatever a person's needs are, Webber said, the completed project will make it easier for them to get to work, get to the doctor, get to school. "There will be a true multimodal path for you to get there," he said. That is especially important in these towns: 16 percent of the households along the project corridor have no access to a vehicle. That's nearly triple the state average. It means that a lot of people have to walk where they need to go. 'You're taking your life in your hands' The boundary separating the towns runs somewhere between the order window and payment window of a McDonald's drive thru. "You order in Spindale and lucky for us you pay in Rutherfordton," Barrick said. But the intersection of US221 and Railroad Ave, just beyond the McDonalds, isn't as lucky. The intersection, an expanse of asphalt, sharp turn lanes, and short traffi c lights, is one of most congested exchanges in the county. There were 87 car crashes at this intersection between 2016 and 2021. Delays are common. It can take forever even for ambulances to get through the snarl. And most dangerous for pedestrians, there aren't any crosswalks. Each town has a sidewalk running along 221, but they are on opposite sides. Rutherfordton's sidewalk is on the north side, Spindale's is on the south. Both stop several feet short of the intersection. So a pedestrian living in Spindale but working in Rutherfordton, for example, would need to walk on the south side until they approach the intersection, then walk on the shoulder of this busy street the last few feet, then cross to the north side of the road without a crosswalk, and continue into Rutherfordton—and then do it all in reverse coming home. "It's very dangerous," Barrick said. Continued on page 2. ISSUE NO. 48 • November 30, 2023 ISSUE NO. 48 • November 30, 2023 • • • 828-248-1408 • 828-248-1408 N.C. TRACTOR & FARM SUPPLY 299 Railroad Ave., Rutherfordton • 828-288-0395 Mobile: 828-429-5008 • SALES SERVICE PARTS PROUDLY SERVING RUTHERFORD, CLEVELAND, GASTON, LINCOLN, POLK COUNTIES AS THE AREAS HOMETOWN MASSEY FERGUSON DEALER. 0% FINANCING FOR 72 MONTHS 0% FINANCING FOR 72 MONTHS --OR-- --OR-- $2,500 OFF CASH PURCHASE! $2,500 OFF CASH PURCHASE! 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