Traffic congestion along N.C. 150 throughout Mooresville and Catawba County won’t likely improve for about a decade.
That’s a concern for area residents and commuters, because more than 20,000 vehicles use the road daily. That’s almost double the highway’s designed capacity of roughly 12,700 vehicles per day.
And the number of vehicles could more than double again by 2035, according to N.C. Department of Transportation officials.
As the Lake Norman area’s population exploded in recent decades, traffic has continually mounted. N.C. 150 has grown infamous for backups several miles long each morning and afternoon heading to and from Interstate 77.
N.C. 150 in the Lake Norman area is four lanes for only about a mile, from I-77 west to a Best Buy-anchored retail center at Morrison Plantation Parkway in Mooresville.
The state plans to expand N.C. 150 from I-77 Exit 36 in Mooresville to the four-lane N.C. 16 Bypass in Catawba County. NCDOT officials also plan to add a median to the road; they say it will make the road safer than a two-way turning lane and will not hurt businesses.
The state will pay the estimated $117 million project cost, nearly $7 million of which will be used to create the I-77/N.C. 150 diverging diamond interchange like is under construction at Exit 28 in Cornelius.
Zahid Baloch, project planning engineer with the NCDOT’s project development and environmental analysis unit, said the section from just east of U.S. 21 to Harvel Road in Terrell is scheduled for right-of-way acquisition in 2017 and construction for 2019.
The section from Harvel Road to the N.C. 16 Bypass is scheduled for right-of-way acquisition in 2020 and construction in 2023.
Residents say traffic on the highway has been a problem for years. During recent planning meetings, residents have expressed concerns ranging from the desire for construction to start earlier, to the effects a highway median could have on businesses, to Lake Norman High School’s need for congestion relief.
“Some citizens and business owners are concerned that a bypass would cause business relocations and hurt existing businesses,” said Baloch, adding it’s too early to tell which ones could be effected.
“A number of comments were related to traffic issues and development at specific locations, most notably the need for improvements at the eastern end (near the NC 16 bypass) of the project.”
Other comments dealt with individual properties along the roadway, he said.
Baloch said the state considered widening N.C. 150 in the 1990s but decided to improve the section of the highway from Cherryville to Lincolnton then instead, rather than the section around Mooresville.
Officials will continue to gather public input in coming months, Baloch said. Residents can request small-group meetings with NCDOT anytime.
The project is being developed through an interagency process, he said, that allows planning and design agencies help steer the project from conception to final design and permitting.
Jim Pratt, 73, was born and raised in the area. He has seen the road evolve and the traffic get increasingly busy for decades. Either he or his wife uses the road more than once a week to visit his daughter and grandchildren in Mooresville.
“I think (traffic) really started getting terrible after Lake Norman started developing, then all the race teams, ” he said.
“You expect (the area) to grow,” Pratt said. “You don’t want things to stay stagnant. But I think they dropped the ball when they didn’t see the potential (of this road) and start buying up land and getting ready for it.”
Jacky Eubanks, planning and parks director for Catawba County, said most of the congestion problem is on the Iredell County side.
A concern of Catawba residents is the future of the historic district in the town of Terrell.
NCDOT is in the process of creating multiple design options, said Eubanks, but a final decision isn’t expected until this time next year.
“What (this widening project) will do, on (Catawba’s) side, is open up new development,” said Eubanks. “I think the major benefit will be more opportunities for growth and development along that corridor.”