by Eren Tataragasi

CORNELIUS – A team of architects set up shop at town hall March 1-3 to come up with ways to enhance the diverging diamond interchange the N.C. Department of Transportation has planned for Interstate 77’s exit 28.

The diverging diamond is designed to reduce traffic flow by minimizing points of conflict and reducing the number of traffic lights on either end of a bridge, meaning the flow is more continuous.

And while the design of the interchange is up to the state Department of Transportation, the design of pedestrian walkways, bridge barriers and other details are up to the town.

John Jackson with RATIO Architects said, “the town wants to take what the N.C. DOT gives them and make it better, aesthetically, so it’s not just a project to help traffic, but take it to the next level so it really becomes the gateway into Cornelius.”

Jackson said the way to enhance the project is through the use of public art, and that can mean anything from murals to metal work, creative landscaping and sculptures – the possibilities are endless.

During the open studio Friday, March 2, Jackson and his team of architects and designers met with town commissioners, members of the town’s various boards and commissions, residents and stakeholders to gather themes residents would like to see represented in the artwork.

Two of the main themes were mills and, of course, the lake.

“We want the enhancements to be specific to Cornelius so the project couldn’t be replicated anywhere else,” Jackson said. “We want it to be right for Cornelius.”

Not only will the design of the interchange represent aspects specific to Cornelius, but it will literally help bridge it’s history with its present and future.

“The historic side of the town is the east side, and the new side is the west, so its interesting the bridge, in a literal and figurative way, brings the past into the present, and somehow maybe we could incorporate that into the design,” Jackson said.

While the architects won’t be back for additional public input before making their final presentation to commissioners during their May 7 board meeting, Jackson said they will continue to collect resident feedback from their website, community, which has information about the project and feedback forms.

“It’s important this is a community supported solution,” Jackson said.

Assistant town manager Andrew Grant said the feedback he’s received from residents and stakeholders has been very positive so far.

He said the consultant’s final theme of braiding the town’s past with it’s present and future is what really sold folks.

“I’m very pleased with the event,” Grant said. “We had great participation and had a lot, not only in terms of numbers, but in terms of varying opinions and geographically a lot of different areas of Cornelius were represented. We were very pleased with the turnout.”

Grant said the team of architects will now go back and narrow down the theme to more specific design elements, and the final plan to be presented to commissioners May 7. To learn more about the items discussed at last week’s open studio, visit