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Charlotte, Mooresville jump on chance to complete road projects faster

Charlotte and Mooresville are the first two communities in the region to financially back specific state road projects to help get them done faster – as allowed under a relatively new state law.

Charlotte has committed to spend $7.5 million toward the state’s building of a bridge over Interstate 85 in the northern part of University Research Park.

Mooresville is putting up $890,000, 10 percent of its project cost, to get the final leg of Brawley School Road widened from two to four lanes.

But it’s too soon to know how much faster state road projects will get done if communities contribute money to the work, said Bob Cook, secretary of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

Towns and cities in the region have until the end of this week to submit letters of intent to the planning group. The letters are guarantees that the municipalities will put money into the state road projects that they want as higher priorities on North Carolina’s transportation improvement list, Cook said.

As of Friday, only Charlotte had submitted such a letter to the planning organization, Cook said. Formerly known as the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group of elected officials and transportation planners from across the region sets Charlotte-area road priorities to submit to the state.

The measure allows communities to financially contribute to state projects in order to help rank them higher. It stems from the Strategic Transportation Investments bill signed into law in June, Cook said. The law demands a more data-driven approach to prioritizing projects.

Charlotte Department of Transportation officials who worked on the city’s letter couldn’t be reached Friday to discuss the total cost of the bridge project.

Cook said the planning organization wants to get the letters to the state by Jan. 24.

On Friday, the Mooresville Board of Commissioners agreed to have Mayor Miles Atkins send the town’s letter of intent to the regional planning organization.

“The benefit/cost ratio and reduction in congestion are both ranked high in N.C. DOT’s metrics for the prioritization,” Mooresville senior engineer Allison Kraft said in a memo to Atkins and the town’s commissioners.

“In other words, projects that solve an existing capacity need and do not have significant right-of-way or environmental issues should rank the highest,” Kraft wrote.

Committing the money to a project of relatively low cost “would also give us the most bang for the buck,” Kraft added. “For example, $1 million would go pretty far on a $10 million project but not so much on a $100 million project.”

In recent years, the state widened Brawley School Road to four lanes from near the Point community on Lake Norman to Talbert Road, just past Interstate 77 Exit 35. The interchange opened in June to help relieve congestion on Brawley, one of Lake Norman’s prime arteries, and it bottlenecks on N.C. 150 a mile to the north.

But the road’s most harrowing stretch is the nearly milelong two-lane section that leads from Talbert Road to U.S. 21. It’s hilly, narrow and curvy.

Kraft said Friday that the final stretch of the road’s widening isn’t even on the state’s list of projects that are slated to start in the next 15 years. Now, however, the town hopes it will be done within that time span, she said.

The town’s letter of intent said Mooresville also will pay for sidewalks and utility relocations along the stretch.

Atkins has advocated for the widening for several years.

As a town commissioner in 2011, he said residents along that stretch deserved to have their part of the state-maintained road widened, too, especially because of its dangers.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak
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