Steele Creek roads closer to funding

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comOctober 8, 2013 

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— Oct. 16 could be a pivotal day for traffic relief in Steele Creek. For pavement to hit the ground, it’ll have to be one of many more coming.

In mid-September the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization released a draft list of roadway needs through 2040. A public comment period on the list ended last week.

Included are three projects with Steele Creek impact — the Garden Parkway from Interstate 485 in Mecklenburg County to the Gaston County line and two N.C. 160 widening projects from Shopton Road West to the South Carolina line.

The group is expected to vote Oct. 16 to finalize the list.

“There are a lot of steps for a project between it being a desire of the community and a needed project to being constructed,” said senior planner Nick Landa. “This is a good first step.”

A federal long-range plan is required, and it has to be updated every four years. Planners look at projected funding and community needs to come up with a list of projects they believe can be completed. Some are slated for sooner openings, some later.

The N.C. 160 widening would be complete by 2025, according to the draft listing. The parkway would open by 2040.

“There are basically a lot of unknowns with the Garden Parkway,” Landa said.

Because Mecklenburg and Gaston counties have different planning programs, the anticipated $573 million parkway listing includes just the portion of the road in Mecklenburg County. The full parkway would travel to I-85 in Gaston County, too. Planners from both counties are working to coordinate their projections for the new toll road.

The N.C. 160 projects — one is from Shopton Road West to N.C. 49, the other from there to the state line — would include widening the road from two to four lanes and putting in bike lanes and sidewalks.

Their 2012 combined cost of $60 million could come in at $95 million by the time they’re open.

Landa said a key step for the projects is moving from a long-range plan to a shorter one, the Transportation Improvement Plan that’s typically forecasted projects for seven years. The next one will be a five-year plan. It’s expected next fall.

Up to 20 new projects can be added each time, and inclusion on the long-range plan is a positive sign for making the cut, Landa said. If the Steele Creek projects make next fall’s list it would be “considered much more likely” they would be completed as scheduled, he said.

It wasn’t by accident the Steele Creek projects made the long-range plan. Residents have for several years complained at public meetings about traffic in the early mornings and late evenings there.

At the most recent Steele Creek Resident Association annual meeting in February, residents pleaded with planners to fix the roads they said were designed for rural uses but aren’t used that way anymore.

The association passed its first ever resolution calling for improvements on N.C. 160. N.C. state Rep. Charles Jeter told residents the highway was a top priority.

“There’s no bigger priority on my list,” he said at the meeting. “It’s the biggest problem in my district.”

Karl Froelich, president of the association, said last week the traffic problem is worsening.

“It’s just bumper-to-bumper traffic from about 7 a.m. on,” he said. “There’s really a big difference, even from what it was three or four years ago. It’s a noticeable increase.”

There’s a new Tanger Outlets center under construction nearby, and RiverGate is expanding.

There also are more South Carolina residents, Froelich said, who are using the road as “their back way shortcut” to the airport or other sites in Charlotte. Shopton Road West was designed as a two-lane residential road, he said, but it is being used as a bypass.

“Steele Creek needs an alternate four-lane road besides Tryon,” Froelich said.

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