The future of South Trade Street remains in question after Matthews town commissioners voted to defer a decision on improvements to the road until May 13.
Several Matthews citizens showed up at the Monday, March 25, commissioners meeting in hopes the board would vote to approve the widening of South Trade Street from Fullwood Lane to Weddington Road. But grumbles of frustration filled the council chambers as commissioners voted instead to put the issue on hold for another 45 days. The board plans to bring South Trade Street improvements back to the table – possibly for a vote – at their May 13 meeting.
Town commissioners have gone back and forth debating the fate of South Trade Street since 2004, when voters passed $5.5 million in bonds to be put toward road improvements, particularly South Trade Street. The bonds were set to expire in November 2012, but commissioners secured a three-year extension through the N.C. Local Government Commission. Town Manager Hazen Blodgett said last summer construction on South Trade would need to begin within one year to avoid
having to redo flood documents for the road.
Mayor Jim Taylor said at the meeting the town has spent nearly $1 million on studies to see what improvements the road needs. Currently, traffic bottlenecks along the stretch of South Trade running from Pleasant Plains and Weddington roads to Fullwood Lane and beyond. Studies show road improvements would increase the area’s rankings, but if no improvements are made, the section of roadway will rank an “F” by 2027.
South Trade Street improvements were last discussed in July, but commissioners voted then to hold off on any decisions until they had more time to consider the project’s ramifications. But residents and commissioners alike are now ready to quit kicking the can and come to a decision.
Taylor, who’s in favor of widening the road, said at the meeting he doesn’t want to see the money the town has spent on the studies go down the drain. He also urged commissioners to vote in favor of the improvements based on the studies’ findings.
“Every single study that we’ve commissioned came back with the same answer,” Taylor said. “We’ve … in some cases, commissioned studies to try to get a different answer and we (haven’t).”
During the meeting’s public comments session, several citizens spoke in favor of the project and no one spoke against it. Several residents talked about the high number of young drivers living in area neighborhoods – particularly Hampton Green – and said heavy traffic forces these drivers to take risks when turning onto South Trade Street.
“People start taking chances and that is a safety issue and somebody’s going to get hurt badly if we’re not proactive in making the changes,” resident John Higdon said.
Resident Sharon Price challenged commissioners to take action now, before a fatality or serious injury occurs.
“(If) someone dies two weeks from now or two years from now, that’s gonna be on your head because it is unsafe,” she said.
Resident Bill Stevens, an avid cyclist who has cycled domestically and overseas, said South Trade is the most dangerous road he’s ever ridden on.
“I know how to get around in traffic pretty well and I’ve never felt more threatened in the big cities in this country or in some of the cities and rural areas of Europe as I have here in Matthews,” he said.
Resident David Krause said he believes commissioners should consider public safety a higher priority than the financial impact of the improvements.
“It’s not about money; it’s about safety,” he said.
In spite of these concerns, some commissioners still have reservations. Commissioner John Urban said the board represents 28,000 Matthews residents and officials need to consider the entire town before spending a considerable amount of money on one area.
Urban said the board should focus on the South Trade/Fullwood intersection while “also addressing other communities in the area and spreading that $5.5 million around … I think that’s the more equitable way to do it, to make everybody get around town equally as opposed to dumping eggs in one basket.”
Taylor countered Urban’s argument, stating improvements to South Trade Street would benefit not just those living in the problem area, but anyone who uses the road while commuting.
“I think that every single citizen in the Town of Matthews would benefit to some degree,” Taylor said.
Commissioner Kress Query was concerned about the tax increase selling the bonds would impose upon residents – something he claims would be 2 cents per dollar of taxable property. Query requested a 45-day deferral so he could examine the issue in more detail and consider the outcome of such a decision.
“Before we jump in there and do (improvements) and cause everyone at this point in our time to be faced with a heavy tax increase, I want to defer it to make sure we have our i’s dotted (and) t’s crossed,” he said.
Despite initial protests from other commissioners – including Jeff Miller, who called delaying a decision “irresponsible,” and Nancy Moore, who said she wanted to move forward with a decision after the issue “finally” reappeared on the agenda – the board unanimously approved a deferral out of respect for Query.
“I will support a deferral for Mr. Query’s sake because I do think it’s important that we all have that respect for each other … I would want that same courtesy if I was requesting something,” Taylor said.