When it comes to congestion, road quality and safety, N.C. 73 in Huntersville, from N.C. 115 to U.S. 21, is one of the area's worst.
The widening of the road has been in planning stages for 17 years, but the road has been a trouble spot for at least the last decade, said Bill Coxe, the transportation planner for the town of Huntersville for the last 12 years.
"That stretch of N.C. 73 is one of the most, if not the most, congested areas in north Mecklenburg County," Coxe said. "What makes this one so bad is the volume of traffic and number of major intersections that are clustered around the interchange. This is as bad as it gets in North Mecklenburg, and it is worse than most two-lane roads in the Charlotte region carrying the same amount of traffic."
Work for the widening of N.C. 73/Sam Furr Road was approved in the fall. Now in the design stages, the estimated $20-plus million project is scheduled to be completed in December 2011. Construction is scheduled to begin in June or July.
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The project is being funded by federal stimulus money obtained by the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization and the N.C. Department of Transportation, as well as the town of Huntersville and the developer. NCDOT will cover additional funding if needed, Coxe said.
The 1.8-mile section is mostly a two-lane road, but the NCDOT plans to make it a four-lane divided highway. Other improvements, like additional through lanes at U.S. 21 and N.C. 115 near the intersections of N.C. 73, also will be added, Coxe said.
The project will include a new railroad crossing at N.C. 115 and a new design concept for North Carolina called a quadrant left design, which will help eliminate conflict points, safety hazards and congestion that occur from left-turning traffic off N.C. 73, said Tawana Brooks, division construction engineer with NCDOT for the last seven years.
"There is a fair amount of congestion in that area, so this construction should alleviate that congestion," Brooks said.
One of the handful of groups that pushed for project approval was the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
Formed in January 2009, it is the area's first inter-local commission created to address the area's transportation and infrastructure needs. It has two representatives from each town (Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville and Mooresville) and one representative from the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce.
A transportation taskforce, whose members were appointed by the towns' four mayors, recommended the commission form in the spring of 2008. The goal of the commission is to advocate for area road, interstate and commuter rail improvements and to persuade local, state and federal officials to give these types of projects high priority.
The commission's executive director, Carroll Gray, 69, moved to Cornelius from Charlotte in 1989. The former president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce said the Huntersville interchange of I-77 and N.C. 73 became an immediate issue when it opened, and population growth has only added to the area's traffic congestion, poor road quality and its safety.