20-year revitalization project under way
MONROE – U.S. 74 is about to get a facelift.
County transportation leaders recently surveyed a group of business leaders, residents and elected officials and found improving the look of a 15-mile stretch of U.S. 74 was one of their top concerns.
The survey was part of a 20-year revitalization plan for the stretch of highway that cuts through portions of Stallings, Indian Trail, Monroe and unincorporated parts of Union County. That revitalization plan will tackle how to improve land use, transportation, economic development and aesthetics of the highway. Transportation leaders asked for the public’s input last month in two public meetings with local residents.
“We’re trying to get a vision for what (people) would like to see in the future, 20 years out,” said Dick Black, director of planning for Union County. “We’d like to take this survey and put it out to a larger group of people.”
One of the main goals the county would like to achieve is to improve the corridor’s look by reworking how many signs, billboards and marquees dot the roadside.
“Too much signage can be a bad thing,” Black said. “If it’s too jumbled up, it slows down traffic and causes wrecks.”
Monroe resident James Kerr owns property along the corridor and will represent Monroe property owners through the project. Kerr said he thinks improving signs could make the biggest and most immediate impact to fixing the highway.
“The signage is either lacking or confusing,” he said.
Kerr hopes each municipality will adopt new rules for signs and architecture to give each town a sense of place so travelers know when they leave one town and arrive in another. He supported the idea of constructing cobblestone archways and brick accents, varying in design from town to town to create a sense of identity.
Black said the county also would like to include more pedestrian-and bike-friendly sidewalks and trails, connecting businesses and residential areas. More than 30 percent of the people surveyed said they would walk the corridor if trails were safer, more accessible and better connected to businesses.
Clive Berman, owner of The Crystal Shoppe in Indian Trail along U.S. 74, said he and his customers have problems getting in and out of his parking lot. He hopes the revitalization project will create easier access to shopping centers like his.
“I know my customers, particularly my middle-aged to older customers, don’t like coming out here on a Friday afternoon, driving down Independence,” he said. “It just isn’t attractive to them.”
Berman believes fewer stoplights would improve the corridor.
“I think that they would need to have more overpasses and underpasses,” Berman said. “Anything which reduces congestion, I think, helps us.”
The surveys and public meetings are part of the first phase of a two-phase project. The first phase will give leaders an idea of what the public wants. The second phase will provide a more detailed look and a strategy on how to implement those changes.
Black said the county also would compare the corridor to other locations throughout the nation to get an idea of how the stretch of U.S. 74 could be improved.
“We want to pull together some of the best practices throughout the country,” he said.
The goal is to finish the first phase by the end of June, Black said. The first phase will cost about $156,000 to complete. The three towns and the county each put forward $20,000 each, and the rest of cost was covered by a $100,000 grant from the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization. Black said the county plans to use the rest of the grant and hopes to secure an additional $80,000 grant to cover the second phase of the project.
Kerr said he worries about how leaders will pay for the project.
“I don’t want to see them put all the effort into this project and not have the funding to see it through,” he said. “Part of our vision should include how to pay for it.”