County plans 2012 study with Monroe Bypass and Mecklenburg development coming
What does the future look like for Union County roads? Officials from towns along the Highway 74 corridor met with their Mecklenburg counterparts at the Stallings Civic Building July 21 to peer into a future of freely flowing traffic along the major artery that connects commuters with careers, health care, shopping and Carolina beaches.
Stallings Mayor Lynda Paxton, vice chairman of the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, called the towns together to discuss plans for 74 that will mesh together from Charlotte through Monroe. With the Monroe Bypass scheduled to be completed in 2013, along with upcoming projects in Mecklenburg County to help move traffic, Union County faces challenges to keep the flow moving.
Union County plans study by June 2012
“We want to make sure that whatever happens doesn’t stop at the county line but continues,” said Dick Back, Union County director of planning, as he talked about plans for 74 from I-485 to Monroe and
beyond. Black said the county hopes to start the first phase of a study of the corridor by June 2012.
Black said the study would bring a new vision for the corridor, and some new tools and regulations to bring together and coordinate between the four jurisdictions.
“Right now, if you want to do something along 74, a car is about the only way you can get there,” Black said. “We’re looking at different ways to do that: more park and ride lots, commuter incentive programs, sidewalks.”
Black said “We’re looking at this as a unique opportunity to have something in place with the Monroe Bypass coming through.” The Bypass is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Among the projects the county is looking at to help streamline traffic along 74 are intersection improvements, such as adding turn lanes and adjusting signal timing. Black said the study will also look at aesthetics, including better integrated land use, improved drainage and buffers, as well as signage.
Black said the project will take two years because of funding.
“It’s so big that we couldn’t do it in a one year time frame,” he said. “The cost will be around $250,000 with the cost divided between the four jurisdictions.”
Black said $160,000 has been spent so far as they work on finalizing the scope and developing an inter-local agreement.
“We’ll hopefully have a consultant on board by the end of October and complete our first phase by June 30, 2012,” Black said.
Charlotte moving forward with sense of urgency from stakeholders
Debra Campbell, Charlotte planning director, led the review of the results from the Urban Land Institute study during the meeting and described the plans to develop the 74 corridor along the six miles from Conference Drive in Charlotte out to I-485.
“As we were doing the plan, the one thing that we did not do was to reconsider the transportation plan decisions that have already been made,” Campbell said. “One of the things that we heard from a lot of our stakeholders was ‘don’t do anything that’s going to continue to delay construction of this thoroughfare,’” she said.
Danny Pleasant, director of Charlotte’s Department of Transportation, said project uncertainty was harming the local market and it was time for action. “It’s chased off investors out of the corridor,” he said.
Pleasant said that economic development along the corridor has been a meltdown.
“We recognize there’s more highway capacity needed and more transit capacity needed in the corridor. Each side of Charlotte down through Matthews is very well served with bus public transit, there’s some express routes that come through Union County … that get excellent ridership. We need to add to that and do more transit,” Pleasant said.
Campbell said the plan recommends taking development away from the Independence corridor and more toward Monroe Road and Central Avenue. In an effort to strengthen and build neighborhoods, the plan calls for some low development that could include car dealerships and stores, but the entrances will be much different.
Campbell said the development would “create nodes instead of the linear, strip type, of pattern that we’ve had.” A node would have a single entrance with turn lanes rather than the multiple driveways that currently contribute to slowing traffic along Independence Boulevard.
In addition to development, some of the plans in Charlotte include creating Bus Rapid Transit that allows buses to move past traffic, and Light Rail Rapid Transit which is being done in South Charlotte. Plans also call for managed lanes, also called High Occupancy Toll lanes along the center of Independence Boulevard that feed into uptown Charlotte. The lanes currently reserved for buses would also allow cars the privilege for a toll. In one scenario, the time of day and traffic conditions will determine the cost of the toll for HOT lanes to bypass congestion. Heavier congestion, and higher HOT lane use, would mean a higher toll at peak times.
Improvements on the Mecklenburg side of the corridor bring traffic as far east along 74 as I-485, but what happens from there depends on results from the upcoming Union County study that is planned to begin in June 2012.
Brian Matthews, Stallings town manager, said the towns need to work together with the state, Charlotte and Matthews in planning the corridor on the Union County end. “The state is asking for Charlotte,
Matthews and the local communities to think about that six-mile stretch that’s left from (Conference Drive) to (Interstate) 485,” said Matthews. “But whatever we do, like Dick says, needs to mesh.
Otherwise we’ll be planning and creating a barrier here if we don’t do it the right way.”
Matthews acknowledged that they were “in the fledgling stage,” and anxious for results of the Union County study.