Traffic to Tanger outlets a concern

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comOctober 31, 2012 

— Many Steele Creek residents are looking forward to a new shopping experience just up N.C. 160. They just hope the roads leading there and back won’t be overwhelmed.

Earlier this month, Tanger Factory Outlet Centers announced plans for a 350,000-square-foot outlet to open in 2014 at I-485 and Steele Creek Road. Plans are for about 90 outlet stores, and expansion could add another 50,000 square feet.

“This project represents an approximately $80 million investment by Tanger in the growing Charlotte community and the great state of North Carolina,” Tanger CEO Steven B. Tanger said in a company release.

Other development will occur surrounding the outlet center, according to landowner Steele Creek Limited Partnership. Traffic is expected from I-85 and I-77 nearby, but also from Steele Creek and Dixie River roads. The company estimates that the outlet will create 300 jobs during construction and 900 jobs when the center opens, and more than $10 million in annual sales tax revenue.

Steele Creek Road from the project site to the South Carolina line is a mix of commercial, industrial, homes, apartments and senior living. It’s also an area known for high traffic at peak times, and is mostly one lane each way. At the Alta Steele Creek apartments, staff say residents are eager to have the outlets but road widening and other improvements may be needed.

Jen Thompson, spokeswoman for the state transportation department in Charlotte, said it’s too early to tell what specific improvements may be needed in the Steele Creek area to accommodate the new project.

It is typical, she said, for developers to have “some kind of improvements” required of them but much depends on the overall scale of the project. Thompson expects that the outlets would draw traffic not only from the I-485 route, but also from Steele Creek Road to the south and Charlotte to the east.

Transportation leaders will better be able to answer traffic questions once specific site plans for the outlets are submitted.

“We don’t have any plans yet,” Thompson said.

Of the 220 current transportation department projects in Mecklenburg County, more than $1 million are for planned work either in nearby Steele Creek or along N.C. 160. Included is $440,000 for work at Dixie River Road and I-485 and $204,000 for Pine Harbor Road from Shopton Road West to the end of state maintenance.

Which doesn’t include the planned Garden Parkway toll connection from the airport in Charlotte to I-85 in Gaston County, an $800 million to $900 million project that planners on both sides of the state line say will shape traffic and development patterns drastically when complete. That road is set to open in 2016.

Just as the existing Tanger outlets in Gaffney draw significant traffic from North Carolina, the new outlets are expected to bring South Carolina residents, too. Steele Creek Road in North Carolina becomes S.C. 160 when it crosses near Tega Cay. That area is a traffic concern and often a tricky place for improvements, planners say, because of territory in two states.

Even prior to the Tanger announcement, York County engineer Phil Leazer said he expected a South Carolina Department of Transportation public hearing early next year on work to alleviate traffic at Gold Hill Road and S.C. 160. There even was discussion between Leazer and leaders in Tega Cay about using money set aside for another project to complete that work faster.

The most recent Pennies for Progress campaign in York County also addressed the S.C. 160 area. The plan approved by voters in 2011 included just more than a mile of S.C. 160 W. from the state line. The $8.84 million project will expand the road from two lanes to five. It’s currently in the design phase.

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