The most important construction in Greensboro isn’t a high-rise or a performing arts center. It’s a road that will change everything.
by Brian Clarey
“The big key is the loop” says Greensboro City Councilman Jamal Fox, “The loop and Phase II.”
Fox represents District 2, where what he claims is the most crucial section of the Greensboro Urban Loop is in the early stages of construction.
“You tell me another project in the entire city that’s going to bring people in and out of the city every day.”
Maps of his district fill the wall space in his modest office in Melvin Municipal Office Building, most of them concerning the outlying area on the northeast fringe of Greensboro. He’s got digitized maps tilted against the walls, stacked atop satellite-image maps and digitally designed concept maps. More maps, run off a computer printer, hang at eye level on the shelf above his desk. A gold ceremonial shovel crusted with dirt leans into the corner.
Phase II, also known as the Cone Boulevard Extension, will connect vast, isolated tracts in his district to the rest of the city and the state, bringing opportunities for development to a part of the city that hasn’t seen much attention since talk of reopening the White Street Landfill died down.
It should all be done by 2022, and though most of the loop itself is already functioning, the last few miles — the most important ones, according to Fox — require a lot of heavy lifting before completion.
The boulevard named for the Cone family who brought large-scale industrialization to Greensboro begins, fittingly enough, at a McDonald’s on Battleground Avenue.
From there it quickly moves eastward, over Lawndale Drive and into the fringe of New Irving Park, where a median splits the road into two ample lanes on each side.
It curves past Buffalo Lake on its way through town, giving access to communities old and new on either side: Kirkwood, Irving Park, O Henry Oaks, the Mill District, Rankin Farm. It unloads at the juncture of Highway 29 and the old Carolina Circle Mall, now a mega-strip mall anchored, also fittingly, by a Walmart.
Cone Boulevard itself is part of a loop, joining at Battleground with Benjamin Parkway and then Wendover Avenue to encircle three-quarters of the city’s core, catching downtown in a pincer movement, sort of a Pac-man bite. The Wendover artery connects the interior with points east, through Burlington, and west, through northern High Point. Benjamin spins off into Bryan Boulevard, an expressway opening up the northwest part of the city running directly to the airport.
But Cone, after connecting with Highway 29, continues on for a promising mile and then, just after 16th Street, unceremoniously stops at a stand of temporary orange hazard markers holding back the wilds of the northeast fringe of the city.
Now Cone Boulevard is awakening, greeting the scant vehicular traffic with groans of trucks and glimpses of freshly turned earth. When it finally fulfills its destiny in 2022, it will connect with Interstate 840, which is the official name of the Greensboro Urban Loop.