Improvements to N.C. 16 from N.C. 73 to just north of Tower Road in Catawba County are scheduled to be completed by spring, months ahead of its deadline, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Construction of the "new" N.C. 16, which parallels the old N.C. 16 through Denver and rural Catawba County, has been going on since 2005. The improvements are meant to speed travel and ease traffic on old N.C. 16, which travels through residential and commercial areas from Charlotte to Newton.
Some intersections on the new N.C. 16 used innovative design techniques like the "left over design," instead of traffic signals or stop signs. The new designs are intended to keep traffic flowing while maintaining safety but have been met with minor frustrations from drivers.
The left over design eliminates drivers' ability to travel directly across the new N.C. 16 and instead forces drivers to make a right-hand turn and basically do a U-turn to get back on the same road.
"I don't think the full impact will be felt until we get it open all the way," said Dan Grissom, division construction engineer.
Grissom added that once the new N.C. 16 is fully open, in spring 2011, some of the public's frustrations will likely go away as they become accustomed to using the new design and the road more efficiently filters traffic and congestion from old N.C. 16 to the new N.C. 16.
The department contracted out the $70 million N.C. 16 project in two phases: grading and building bridges, and paving. The project is on track to be completed by spring 2011.
The department started accepting bids for the grading in 2004. McAninch Corp. began work on the $40 million-plus project in 2005. Work ended in December 2007. Bids were accepted for the paving project in 2008 and Blythe Construction began work on the nearly $29 million project in 2008. The completion date is Nov. 1, 2011, but DOT officials expect it to be completed by spring.
The overall project also contained two intermediate contract completion dates. The first required Blythe to open N.C. 16 from N.C. 73 north to Optimist Club Road. Work started on that in October 2008 and was opened to traffic in July 2009. The second intermediate contract completion date required Blythe to open the road to St. James Church Road. Work started on that in October 2008 and was opened to traffic in December 2009.
"Both of these intersections have the 'left over design,' in which motorists must cross the median in areas just north and south of the main intersections," said Grissom. "These designs were initiated due to low traffic volumes on the intersecting roads and are a lot safer than a traditional stop-sign condition."
Grissom said while some people have been vocal about a traffic signal, the department feels the left over design is much safer than a signal on rural road like N.C. 16 with a 55-mph speed limit. About 6,000 vehicles per day travel on Optimist Club and St. James Church roads, both of which connect to N.C. 16.
"At the present time, the traffic volumes do not warrant the cost of building a full-blown interchange," said Grissom. "However, the department has purchased the necessary right of way to build the interchanges if further traffic volumes warrant them. To date, we have had very little complaints concerning the intersections, and to my knowledge we have not had any accidents in these intersections since they opened."
Also, some of the roads - Optimist Club, St. James Church, Forney Hill and Mundy Road - that have turned into high-traffic roads because they connect old N.C. 16 to the new N.C. 16 will be repaved as funding permits.
"Every year, the roads in each county are evaluated as to the need for paving, and the county maintenance engineer determines which roads get paved and when ... given the resources available to him."
The next section of N.C. 16 from Tower Road to N.C. 16 in Newton is included in the Transportation Improvement Plan.
"We are currently scheduled to hold a public hearing on that section of road sometime early next year," said Grissom. "Right-of-way acquisition would begin sometime in mid-2013 and construction would start in late 2015, but this will all hinge on availability of money."