Lake Norman & Mooresville

Congestion relief still down the road a bit

Progress on the widening of N.C. 73 in Huntersville can be seen, but relief for business owners, commuters and residents is still more than a year away.

When it comes to congestion, road quality and safety, N.C. 73 from N.C. 115 to U.S. 21 is one of the area's worst stretches. Some residents and commuters say they avoid the area altogether and, because of that, businesses are feeling the effects of the road work.

Vince Winegardner is the vice president of the Northcross Master Association, an umbrella association of about 60 property owners in the area to the east and west of Exit 25. He also owns Family Healthcare of Lake Norman in the Northcross Professional Park on Sam Furr Road, across from Target.

He said businesses are relieved to see progress being made, but the road work does have its drawbacks.

"Change is always hard to adapt to, and this construction will bring significant change to a road system that is getting busier every day," he said. "So, yes, we are happy to see the intersection of Sam Furr and Statesville Road being upgraded to handle the traffic, but we are also apprehensive about how the construction will impact access to our businesses and how the new quad left concept will route traffic through the intersection and how that new traffic pattern will impact our businesses."

Most of the work is concentrated along Statesville Road, or U.S. 21. It will be more than a month before major work is expected along N.C. 73, according to Bill Coxe, the transportation planner for the town of Huntersville. The work on Statesville Road is primarily on the south side of the intersection.

In the coming weeks, there will be substantial work along the west side of Statesville Road/U.S. 21, north of the N.C. 73 intersection.

Coxe has heard from residents who said they're happy construction is under way and the businesses around the U.S. 21/N.C. 73 intersection are also pleased but cautious.

"During every major highway reconstruction/widening project that I have witnessed when you are doing the project while maintaining traffic, the construction period was a pain," said Coxe. "The contractor will do everything they can to minimize that pain, such as maintaining all lanes of traffic during peak travel periods. ... But the inevitable unexpected glitch will occur."

Blythe Construction has so far done a pretty good job of minimizing the impact on access to businesses, said Winegardner. There have been a few power and internet outages at hotels and restaurants, he said.

Kelly Saunders of Huntersville visits Northcross shopping center about once every couple months, but said there's a possibility she'll visit more when the widening is finished.

"I do avoid it because of the congestion," she said.

Jean Adams of Huntersville said she visits when necessary, but generally avoids the area as well.

"If I have to get to this side of town at all, I do not come through Sam Furr," she said. "Everyone that car pools will avoid this area. I don't know so much about shopping because there are some stores here that aren't anywhere else, like Target. ... But it really makes car-pooling or getting to any activity on this side of town real difficult. But after it's finished, if it's easier to get through and it doesn't take as much time, I'll probably visit more often."

Troy Jones of Mooresville visits the Northcross or Birkdale areas weekly. He's lived in the area since 1999 and said he's heard residents call the road and intersection "malfunction junction."

"When I came here, that's exactly what Exit 25 was," he said. "I used to avoid Exit 25 when I tried to get to these areas that I visit by taking a side road, and I probably missed a bunch of businesses I didn't know existed because of that. ...

"This is just a disaster, coming or going. "

Coxe compares the expansion to a home renovation project.

"For those of us who have been through a major home remodeling, you need to remember that the aggravation of the process will eventually fade and be replaced by the pleasure of a much better place to live," he said. "And so it will be with our communal living room, Sam Furr Road.

"Any anticipated extra delay or lane closures will be posted on the website and/or on portable message boards," said Coxe. "Be patient, add some extra time to your normal trip, select good music to accompany your delays, and most of all, please pay extra attention for the safety of the folks who are working along the road to help you."

Work for the widening of N.C. 73/Sam Furr Road was approved last fall. Construction began in August and the estimated $20-plus million project is scheduled to be completed by the end of December 2011. So far, NCDOT has not requested an extension, said Coxe.

The 1.8-mile section is mostly a two-lane road. The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to make it a four-lane divided boulevard. Other improvements, like additional through and turn lanes at U.S. 21 and N.C. 115 near the intersections of N.C. 73, also will be added, said Coxe.

The project also will include a new railroad crossing at N.C. 115 and a new design concept for North Carolina called a quadrant left design, which will help eliminate congestion that occurs from left-turning traffic off N.C. 73, according to N.C. transportation officials.

The project is being funded by federal stimulus money obtained by the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization and the N.C. DOT, as well as the town of Huntersville and the developer. N.C. DOT will cover additional funding if needed, Coxe said.