Projects remain on hold; Monroe Road delayed
Less than a handful of major Union County road projects will see funding in the next five years.
At its Wednesday, Nov. 17, meeting, the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to study the Rea Road extension but tabled the proposed Monroe Road widening along with five other Union projects that have no funding. As the group continues to shape a draft of its new five-year Transportation Improvement Program, members had to determine if currently delayed projects were to be included or left on hold.
The regional planning agency agreed to collect more data about Rea Road and the proposed widening of U.S. 601 from the Monroe Bypass to Hwy 74 near Marshville. Other projects such as the Monroe Road widening fell short due to a lack of consensus.
“It appears (Monroe Road) doesn’t mesh with our process because we have to move quickly,” agency Secretary Bob Cook said. “Perhaps we come back later on and look to see if it’s appropriate to shift monies to Old Monroe.”
Over the last few months, Stallings and Indian Trail had considered moving the money currently allocated to widen Stallings and Indian Trail roads toward a single venue, widening Old Monroe Road from the county line to the intersection with Wesley Chapel-Stouts Road.
N.C. Department of Transportation Division 10 engineer Barry Moose agreed to study the project and report back on costs and any other issues. While the Indian Trail board committed its money to Monroe Road, the Stallings town council only supported the study, waiting to see cost estimates before committing its money.
“We don’t have a decision, so we can’t move forward at this time,” Moose said.
The regional planning board said officials agreed it would revisit once the study is in and the towns make a decision.
“We’ve got to be flexible,” Monroe delegate John Ashcraft said. “Over a 15-year period, traffic patterns change, and when that happens, you don’t want to throw good money after bad.”
Ashcraft and the rest of the Monroe council followed that philosophy earlier this year, when they recognized their allocated project, $7.5 million to widen Charles Street, wouldn’t help traffic where they need it the most. They asked state officials to cancel the project and divert that money on widening a portion of Charlotte Avenue. Instead, the money went away, the funds went back into state coffers, and Monroe was left with a project on the list in name only.
Treatment like that prompts towns to build ‘roads to nowhere’, Ashcraft said.
“We don’t have a whole lot of money, and we need to spend it wisely,” Ashcraft added. “The concern becomes once you get something, you don’t want to give it up. (Otherwise) you have to explain to your constituents (why) it’s not getting built.”
Ashcraft asked for consideration from other towns, if Monroe could be given the same opportunity as Stallings and Indian Trail to consider moving funding from Charles Street to Charlotte Avenue. The problem, Moose explained, is the Indian Trail and Stallings projects have funding attached.
“Once a project is removed, that money goes away,” Moose said, in regards to Charles Street. “If we (switched projects), it means another project would have to be delayed.”
Last year, to balance a shrinking revenue, the regional planning agency delayed several projects and pulled funding pulled entirely from some.
“A lot of these delays are to balance our budget,” the state engineer, Moose said. “We took the amount of money we had (and) looked at the region. We had to adjust down, we had to face reality and program the projects accordingly.”
From 2009 to 2035, planners project the region will get $1.42 billion from the state’s equity formula and $1.706 billion from the loop formula. The state’s equity formula breaks counties such as Mecklenburg into seven divisions. Half of the money distributed to those divisions is based on population. The remaining half is distributed two ways: First, the state calculates the miles of unfinished interstate road in each division, then adds that to a set amount of money given equally to each division. So, $1.7 billion of the region’s $3.1 billion would be spent on 12 projects, including $152 million in Mecklenburg for Independence Boulevard improvements.
Six of nine projects the agency delayed this week were are in Union County, including a year delay on Stallings and Indian Trail roads.
Rea Road extension to be studied
Another long delayed Union County project took a step forward at the Wednesday meeting, when planning agency members approved a study of the Rea Road extension. The road currently dead ends at its intersection with Providence Road.
Under the proposal, Rea Road would extend from N.C. 16 to N.C. 84 as a two lane road, with the state buying right of way for an eventual four-lane facility. The project sat on the Transportation Improvement Program list for more than 20 years. During that time, it has moved up and down in the rankings, while never getting close to funding.
Now state officials are negotiating with local residents. At least one property owner indicated he might donate some land, Moose said.
“There’s a chance the property owner could give us some right of way to link the two roads,” Moose told the regional planning officials. “If we could make this happen, it could sustain the area’s (traffic needs) for many years.”
Moose told officials too many projects found their way in the current five-year TIP plans. Even now under the reduced funding model, Moose said that 70 percent of the projects won’t get be built.
The Mecklenburg Union agency is building a draft to determine where money is allocated for the next five years. Organization members were told to expect a rough draft of the new plan by their January meeting. The projects selected have to demonstrate a reduction in air pollution, to meet federal guidelines. That plan has to be submitted by May.