The N.C. Department of Transportation’s statewide plan for road improvements over the next decade includes eight projects along N.C. 73 totaling more than $200 million.
And while the proposed projects all have their own budgets and timelines, collectively they would achieve the crucial widening of a nearly 25-mile stretch of what a longtime local transportation official referred to this week as one of the Charlotte region’s most-important east-west roadways.
Interstates 40 and 85 are the area’s primary carriers of east-west traffic, said Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe.
“Between those two, you have N.C. 150 running through Mooresville, then you have N.C. 73,” Coxe said last week in a presentation to the Huntersville Town Board. “Then you have this big lake over here.”
Coxe was referring, of course, to Lake Norman, whose elongated, north-south shape limits options for east-west roads. N.C. 73 runs immediately south of the lake, while N.C. 150 cuts over a narrow northern section.
DOT’s proposed projects would make N.C. 73, now primarily a two-lane road, at least four lanes wide from Business N.C. 16 in Denver to U.S. 29 in Concord. Similar projects are planned or under way for N.C. 150.
N.C. 73 is Huntersville’s primary business corridor, feeding Birkdale Village and Northcross Shopping Center, as well as several large residential subdivisions including The Hamptons, Hampton Ridge, Cambridge Grove and Green Farm.
That means locals largely use that section, also called Sam Furr Road, for short trips while other drivers are trying to traverse the region without having to go to I-40 or I-85.
“As our metropolitan area continues to grow, those highways (N.C. 73 and 150) have to serve that sort of a mobility function, which is always at cross purposes with their function as local service to businesses and residences,” said Coxe, who has spent more than 30 years combined in the Mecklenburg County and Huntersville planning departments. “That’s always a pressure we have to deal with.”
Another pressure is persistent growth. Coxe showed an aerial photo of the I-77 interchange at N.C. 73 in Huntersville (Exit 25) when it opened in 1993. The image showed an area still dominated by farmland and forest. He then showed a photo of the same area in 2007, with virtually no large sections of undeveloped land in sight.
“As planners, we tend to think ahead 20 years,” Coxe said. “That all happened in just 14 years.”
A new Exit 25 is one of DOT’s planned projects along N.C. 73. The new interchange will be a “split diamond” design, and likely will connect extended on- and off-ramps not just to Sam Furr Road, but also to Northcross Drive and Rich Hatchet Road to the south, and likely to a new street feeding U.S. 21 to the north.
Two new overpasses also are planned in the $17.5 million project, which is expected to coincide with DOT’s public-private partnership to add toll lanes to a 26-mile stretch of I-77, including the section running through the Lake Norman area.
The N.C. 73 widening projects are expected to begin between 2021 and 2023.
“That will be a good time to avoid (N.C. 73),” Coxe joked.
John Deem is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.