Motorists who travel U.S. 321 at Interstate 85 in Gastonia may have noticed more heavy equipment at work in recent weeks. Construction of the reconfigured interchange should be finished a year from now, with the completion date set for June 21, 2020.
The more than $15 million project does not change the I-85 bridge over U.S. 321 but makes significant revisions to the ramps to and from the interstate. For example, traffic in both directions on U.S. 321 headed to I-85 northbound will loop onto a new entrance ramp that follows an old railroad bed under the interstate before finally merging onto the freeway.
The contractor recently shifted traffic to a new alignment for vehicles on northbound I-85 near the U.S. 321 exit, with grading and paving underway on the ramp to I-85 northbound. NCDOT engineer and project manager Eric Conner says grading has also begun for a new exit ramp from I-85 southbound onto the northbound lanes of U.S. 321 between I-85 and Rankin Lake Road, as well as grading on the new alignment for North Marietta Street and the Bulb Avenue extension.
Conner says the interchange’s one-of-a-kind design means more traffic shifts are coming. “The current plan is to move the crews to the southbound I-85 direction and tie in the new ramp after completion of the northbound ramp,” he said. “This would again involve a lane shift and temporary barrier wall.”
The state announced plans in 2017 to reconfigure the busy interchange to ease traffic congestion. More than 100,000 vehicles travel I-85 in Gastonia each day, with another 50,000 daily on U.S. 321. Construction began in August of 2018.