Transportation committee signs off on project
The Rea Road extension cleared another hurdle April 7, getting approval from a local transportation committee. The Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Technical Coordinating Committee signed off on the project’s changes, meaning that it now goes before the full group for a vote as part of their long range transportation plan April 28.
While the committee vote was almost unanimous, it didn’t come without some concerns. Because environmental studies have yet to take place on the project, there’s no guarantee it will keep the same alignment when construction starts.
“The TCC has concerns anytime someone proposes a public/private venture and environmental studies have yet to occur,” TCC chair Bill Coxe said. “Those studies will ultimately determine the alignment of the road.”
The Rea Road extension would be a two-lane highway, stretching from the intersection of Rea and Providence roads to N.C. 84/Weddington Road near the 12 Mile Creek Road intersection.
Discussions over funding the project have gone on for almost 20 years. As a new long range funding plan is designed, staff members asked the MUMPO board in January if they wanted to keep the $2.3 million funding in place or use it for something else.
As a result, the planning organization set a deadline. The town of Weddington had 60 days to work with The Base Group and Union County on acquiring right of way for the extension. If the town succeeded, MUMPO would vote to keep the funding dedicated to Rea Road on the long range transportation plan. Without a guarantee for that right of way, the money would go back into the pot and the project would slip back into unfunded status.
County commissioners agreed to amend their sewer policy, granting 86,000 in future capacity to The Woods subdivision, in exchange for right of way donations. The problem, Coxe said, was that despite the fact Base Group partner Michael Sealy, developer of The Woods, said he would donate the right of way, federal law requires the state to still offer him a fair purchase price.
“Since there is certain to be federal money involved, land owners donating right of way have to be offered fair market value for the land,” Coxe said. “It’s up to them to reject that offer.”
When Infinity Partners and the Base Group acquired land several years ago in hopes of developing The Woods, part of the terms with the town of Weddington included the developers paying for a portion of the Rea Road extension. The local transportation authority voted to allocate funding to make up the difference.
When the town rejected the developers’ plan for a wastewater treatment plant and the housing market started shrinking, the extension started looking like a thing of the past. The problem, North Carolina Department of Transportation engineer Barry Moose said, is that nobody updated the $2.3 million cost estimate, which was only supposed to cover the 1,500 feet left over after the developer’s portion. Now that the project is fully funded by public dollars, Moose said, the cost is $7 million, which includes costs for intersection improvements and left turn lanes at the link with Hwy. 84.
At the TCC meeting, Coxe said the estimate was revised a bit, now between $7 and $9 million. While the project is still years away from construction, local and state officials believe the money will be there to complete it. Coxe said the committee questioned however if that was the best use for extra funds.
“If you stumble across half a million, that’s one thing,” Coxe said. “Now you say you can find almost $5 million? That’s another story.”
Coxe said that TCC members couldn’t propose anything else during the meeting that would be a better use of the funds, which are imaginary at this point.
“We say the money’s there right now, but nothing is ever fully funded until such time as we start construction,” Coxe said. “We believe we will have the dollars necessary, but to do that, we’re anticipating both future revenues and future costs, which could change.”
The Rea Road extension will be part of the draft version of MUMPO’s long range transportation plan, which covers all potentially funded road projects through 2035. If the draft version is approved April 27, it will go out for a series of public hearings, for Mecklenburg and Union County residents to comment. Then MUMPO board members will vote one final time to adopt the document and establish where transportation dollars will go.