Huntersville is moving ahead with plans to smooth the flow of traffic through downtown, after a little more than a decade of consideration.
The multimillion-dollar project would involve realigning the northern and southern ends of Main Street to connect with N.C. 115, building either roundabouts or signalized intersections at both.
While the two-lane stretches already intersect, the realignment would ease traffic congestion in the town center and make it more walkable by allowing for crosswalks, sidewalks and street parking, said Max Buchanan, director of engineering and public works for the town.
For the most part, the roads in and around downtown have remained largely unchanged in recent decades.
But in recent years, population growth in northern Mecklenburg and southern Iredell counties “has had, and continues to have, a significant impact” on traffic conditions in town, particularly along north-south roads, Buchanan said. Huntersville is home to more than 52,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, a more than two-fold increase since 2000.
While downtown sees its share of motorists throughout the day, congestion has remained problematic in the mornings and late afternoons.
As part of the proposed improvement project, Main Street and N.C. 115, or Old Statesville Road, would converge at the southern end of downtown where N.C. 115 intersects with Mount Holly-Huntersville Road. At the northern end, they would meet just near their existing intersection, with nearby Fourth Street extending to the new one.
Town officials are still considering whether to build roundabouts or signalized intersections at those planned crossings, but both are designed to help ease traffic on N.C. 115 through downtown. In either case, a traffic signal is planned for the intersection of Main Street and Huntersville-Concord Road.
Widening N.C. 115 remains an alternative, but town officials oppose doing so, Buchanan said, adding that it would have “significant, adverse human and environmental impacts” on the downtown area. The town is required to conduct an environmental impact study.
The project was first proposed in 2005, at a time when plans for the Red Line passenger train appeared less uncertain. It is part of the town’s capital improvement plan, which aims to redevelop downtown and attract new investment.
It could cost about $10.2 million, though “more accurate” estimates are expected after the design phase is complete, Buchanan said.
The town would pay for about half with general obligation bonds voters approved in 2012 the remainder would come from the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, he said.
Despite extensive discussions, the project is still in the planning stages, with the town working with an engineering firm. In late April, several dozen people turned out to a workshop on the proposed improvements, posing a flurry of questions to town and N.C. Department of Transportation officials.
Once its design is finalized, perhaps as soon as the fall of 2017, rights-of-way acquisitions are scheduled to begin. Construction is not expected to finish until the end of 2020, Buchanan said.
“Roads take a long time,” said Jack Simoneau, the town’s planning director. “You measure progress of roads in decades.”
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.