Though construction for the widening of East John Street/Old Monroe Road won’t start until spring 2021, it’s already causing confusion and concern in Matthews.
Last fall, the N.C. Department of Transportation held a public hearing and presented preliminary plans for U-4714, the NCDOT’s project number for the widening. Residents voiced a number of concerns over the proposed super street design.
A super street is a highway with no signalized intersections and all right turns. To cross over or turn left on a superstreet, cars approaching from side streets must turn right and make uU-turns. The super street design requires construction of multiple large paved bump-outs to give cars enough room for U-turns.
To help alleviate residents concerns, NCDOT did away with most U-turns, preserving signalized intersections in several places. They made other changes as well including smaller medians in some areas and agreeing to acquiring right-of-way from both sides of the street instead of only one side.
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The revised plans were recently presented at a public meeting. NCDOT Deputy Division 10 engineer Steve Cole explained the new design and then took questions from the 250-plus member crowd. From the questions asked, it was evident that folks still don’t like the idea of a major road splitting their town.
Matthews resident Charles Hitsman says he was involved in a town task force seven or eight years ago that looked at how transportation and zoning should develop in the town over the next 25 years and says the widening of John Street was not part of those recommendations.
“We wanted to divert the flow of traffic and stop large commercial vehicles from coming through town. The idea was to leave the roads alone and bring light rail out here to service the town. But now they want to bring a major highway through the middle of downtown,” said Hitsman.
Renee Garner, one of the organizers of PreserveMatthews, an organization fighting to keep the portion of John Street running through Matthews to three lanes at the most, says she is still concerned about NCDOT’s revised plan. She lives on the opposite side of John Street from the post office and has to cross that road to access downtown.
“It’s not a good plan. The data is the same as when it was a superstreet. Basically they expect 54,500 cars per day to come through Matthews, about the same as I-485 in Pineville,” said Garner.
“I have kids and want them to be able to cross the street and go by themselves to the library or other places downtown when they are old enough. But they will never be able to cross with interstate levels of traffic.”
Garner thinks the best option would be for NCDOT to put a hold on the project until U.S. 74 construction is complete. She says U-4714 should then be reassessed to see if the improvements are needed.
Matthews town manager Hazen Blodgett says the town board has yet to weigh in on the new design.
“This is a state maintained road and it’s a state project. Our town board has not taken an official position on this new design. We do appreciate NCDOT working with us and listening to the town when we explained our first round of concerns,” said Blodgett.
“The road they are showing now is a better design than the original.”
Cole says the road design is still a work in progress.
“This is a process. The planning and design process we go through to create a project and put it out for contract is full of change. That’s just part of the process,” said Cole.
He says plans call for construction to start in March of 2021 with the project to be complete in 2 1/2 to 3 years.
5 questions residents asked Cole
Q. Why are you doing this project now?
A. “This project has been in the long range transportation plan for 15 years. Projects aren’t proposed by DOT, they are proposed by the CRTPO (Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization) that is made up of representatives from Charlotte and all the surrounding municipalities, including Matthews. The state doesn’t come down and say, ‘By gosh, we have to do something with Matthews.’ We listen to what the CRTPO wants and we try to deliver.”
Q. Why would you put a highway through a residential historic district when you have a thoroughfare and highway only one mile away?
A. “We expect some traffic to divert to US-74, but not enough. We could go back and do another traffic analysis. But it would cost taxpayer money to do that, and I think we would be right back here in the next six months with the same answer.”
Q. Can we take width out of the median and move it to the side?
A. “Yes. But if we sandwich everything inside, it will be a concrete jungle. We want to establish a refuge for pedestrians in the middle of the road. Everything is a tradeoff.”
Q. Have you considered roundabouts?
A. “Roundabouts are great tools when you have balanced traffic volume on all approaches, but aren’t the right tools at this location.
Q. Who are you trying to serve — Matthews or Union County?
A. “We don’t discriminate between traffic. We see a demand, we serve it. This road will benefit Matthews residents as well.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCDOT posts updates to the project at www.ncdot.gov/projects/eastjohnoldmonroe/. To find out more about PreserveMatthews visit www.preservematthews.com or go to their Facebook page.
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