Major construction has been right outside the doorsteps of Salem College. The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) began construction on Interstate 40 Business (Business 40) through downtown Winston-Salem in 2017. As of Nov. 11, 2018, Church, South Main and Liberty streets have also been under construction, which directly affects Salem College.
“It impacts everything,” said J.W. Boles, recently appointed chief of Salem College’s Public Safety department. Boles was recently appointed chief two months ago, but he has worked in the Public Safety office for 11 years.
According to an article by Wesley Young in the Winston-Salem Journal, the current project will be a significant update in the 50 years since Business 40 opened. According to Chief Boles, this is also the first time Salem has been directly impacted by a construction project.
“We’ve had road, soil repairs in the past, but this [construction] impacts everything,” Boles said. “Students…my officers getting to work because there’s so many traffic tie-ups…some of them have to start 45 minutes earlier than they used to…when they used to only spend 15 minutes.”
Based on NCDOT’s current timeline, Business 40 and connecting roadways are separated into four segments. Since fall 2018 Segment C is the area closed for construction, which involves the roads leading to Salem College. The entire project is expected to be complete in the summer of 2020.
“Everybody has to plan well ahead because you never know what traffic’s gonna be like, and that’s gonna affect us for another year, two-and-a-half years,” Boles said.
Chief Boles and Assistant Chief Karen Boyd are in close communication with Larry Shaver, NCDOT engineer who oversees the construction. With Shaver’s information, Public Safety officers can inform students and faculty on any changes to their commutes via email. Public Safety officers also work closely with Salem College Admissions, Old Salem and Salem congregation as the construction continues.
“We [Public Safety] have had to put in a few more hours moving cars, blocking and coning off areas,” Boles said. “Karen and I meet with the Security Council…so we don’t have any conflicts, so it’ll help the students: there’ll be more parking spaces for them.”
Chief Boles has also heard complaints from students on the effects of road construction.
“Several students talk about how bad the traffic was. They get out of class during the rush hour…it’s bumper to bumper; it’s packed.”
For LaTressa Hagans, a second-year Fleer adult student, the construction of Business 40 impacts areas outside of her student life. “When I have to pick up my kids – if I don’t leave at a certain time it takes me 40 minutes to get home.”
Hagans lives in Waughtown, North Carolina. She explained how her commute to campus was less affected because of her proximity to Business 40, but because she lives off-campus she is particularly impacted by the regular commute.
“I’m not that affected,” Hagans said repeatedly, “but I have to drive everyday Monday through Friday; on Mondays and Wednesdays I have to go through it twice a day.”
Both Hagans and Boles expressed their doubts concerning the timeline of the construction. When asked if Hagans believed construction would end as projected, she laughed. “The process has already been so long…I don’t think they [NCDOT] will be able to keep their promises,” Hagans said.
Boles, too, believed the project would take longer than expected, especially after firsthand experience with slower progress near the McHugh Sister Flats.
“They [construction] were drilling and ran into bedrock…they had to slow down,” Boles said. “Conditions change…it’s still too early in the project to say how long…but you don’t know what they’re going to run into the rest of the way,” Boles said.
Still, Hagans and Boles were optimistic of the improvements to Business 40 whenever the entire project finished.
“I hope for less traffic…a safe, smooth journey to my school and my kids’ school,” Hagans said.
“I hope that it’s a lot smoother…Business 40 has always been a tie-up…from 2 p.m. on, so with the additional lanes, wider bridges, it should be a lot better,” Boles said.
In the face of continued construction, though, Chief Boles could only remain pragmatic in the preparedness of Public Safety and Salem College.
“We’ll keep everybody informed,” Boles said. “Emailing if there’s any changes in the detour route or any changes in the timeline…but that’s the only thing we can do.”