Cabarrus is a model for how to accomplish critical infrastructure


Cabarrus County has done quite well, thank you, in the world of NCDOT and improvements to infrastructure. In fact, it’s one of the South’s largest transportation and distribution centers, thanks to widening projects to Interstate 85, providing quicker access to both Charlotte and Raleigh.

a-long-obedience-in-the-same-directionAnd thanks, also, to a sustained group effort among top business leaders and politicians.



John Cox, the former CEO of the Cabarrus Chamber of Commerce, compares it to the message in “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,” an inspirational book about discipleship by Eugene H. Peters.

Cabarrus has practiced inclusion and working relationships on a county-wide level, says Cox, who is now CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce in Florida.

“We had public leaders and private business leaders who were looking 15 and 20 years out,” Cox said. “We are reaping the benefit of their leadership today.”

Indeed, the N.C Department of Transportation began its newest I-85 widening project in Cabarrus last month, this, on top of multiple improvements around interchanges and nearby infrastructure between 2011 and 2013. Bruton Smith Boulevard is bustling with hotels, the Speedway and, of course, Concord Mills. Farther north are industrial centers like International Business Park.

Right now “shoulder strengthening” is being done so that traffic can be shifted over onto the shoulder during future widening work. Crews will begin on I-85 Northbound at the beginning of the project near N.C. 73 (Exit 55). The work will continue the entire stretch of the project to beyond Lane Street (Exit 63). Once the northbound work is complete, crews will switch to I-85 Southbound.

This $197 million project will add four additional travel lanes, two in each direction, to approximately eight miles of I-85 from north of N.C. 73 (Exit 55) to north of Lane Street (Exit 63) in Cabarrus County. Interchange improvements are proposed at U.S. 29/601 (Exit 58), Dale Earnhardt Boulevard (Exit 60) and Lane Street (Exit 63). The existing at-grade rail crossing on Winecoff School Road in Kannapolis will also be eliminated.

The primary purpose of this project is to improve traffic flow on I-85 and the interchanges in the project area. Currently, the project completion date is scheduled for late 2017.

Cox, who was recruited by the Cabarrus Chamber back in 2001, said there were distinct paths to success with the NCDOT.

Build the relationship with the NCDOT, including members of the Board of Transportation, in particular, Division 10 which includes Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Stanly and Union counties. “You can’t just pick up the phone and call one day and say ‘I need this’ when they don’t know you from Adam,” Cox said. He consistently invited members of the state Board of Transportation to lunch in their home district and to Cabarrus to “drive on our roads.”

Build the network. “To do the projects that are regional, you have to have a friend in Gaston County, Lake Norman, Union County. In Cabarrus, they learned who the various chairs were “and brought them over to Cabarrus several times.” Cox built a network of “trust relationships.”

Nurture lasting relations between the business community and the community as a whole. “You build a business case around why we need these transportation improvements in our county. Because you know we might have $80 million of transportation infrastructure needs and someone esle may have $100 million of need,” Cox said.

“Ultimately it’s the relationships and the network that make your community better,” he said.

Cox said it takes “a long obedience in the same direction,” just like the book. “Reach across county and state lines. It’s something you have to get up and do every day,” he said.



Steve Morris, chairman of the Cabarrus County Commission, and a former chairman of the Cabarrus Chamber, says transportation improvements were part of an evolution that didn’t occur overnight.

“As far as what is happening on I-85 today, most people in Cabarrus County would say that it is way overdue. The last section that was widened was a bottleneck for many years,” said Morris. Citing work that was completed north and south of Cabarrus first, he said the order “in which the NCDOT allocates their projects has finally come to Cabarrus and we have certainly benefitted from this.”

He said the improvements that have been completed and are currently under way are allowing businesses to connect via the interstate in a way they hadn’t for years. He also likes Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed NC Connect bond referendum, which would fund the completion of the George W. Liles Parkway, creating a cross-county transportation connector.

Morris said infrastructure improvements have considerably benefitted manufacturing and distribution. “It has certainly made us a much more attractive location for businesses like FedEx and Sysco [Food Services].” Both have operations out of Concord’s International Business Park off I-85 between Poplar Tent Road and NC 73.

Road improvements have not just brought businesses to the area, but tourists as well. The Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau says hotels are bustling year around.



People like Bachman Brown, a lawyer who was also the first mayor of Kannapolis, and Emmett Robertson Jr., the former vice president of community affairs at NorthEast Medical Center, were long-timers who quietly worked for the good of the county through the chamber and its transportation committee, Cox said.

Both have passed away.

Other transportation visionaries include real estate magnate Allen Tate who had special ties to Cabarrus.



One of his favorite agents is Diane Honeycutt, another former chamber chair, who, like Morris, transitioned into county-wide political office. She said Brown was a “huge advocate” for infrastructure improvements and worked tirelessly on relationships and strategy.

Brown was old school, a “true southern gentleman,” she said. “He valued integrity, honesty, family and community. He brought people together. because of the core values that he possessed as a person. He was able to bring people together becaase you had a sense of trust and respect, and therefore made it easier to get consensus.”


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