By Josh Whitener
It’s official: By late 2016, Matthews residents and commuters will be driving on four lanes along a stretch of South Trade Street.
Commissioners voted Monday, June 24, to approve a controversial project that will widen South Trade Street from just north of Matthews United Methodist Church to just beyond its intersection with Chesney Glen Drive and the Matthews Athletic and Recreation Association. The vote comes after years of discussion and two recent votes against widening South Trade. Town spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller said a construction start date hasn’t been set, but the project should be complete by late 2016.
Approximately 16,000 vehicles travel South Trade Street each day, according to a news release from the town.
“I think we’ve actually gone forward with something,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Bailey said at the meeting. “This is the third vote. We’ve persevered, continued down a road to get something done, and we came up with an agreement that everybody worked on, and I’m proud of what this board has done.”
The $5.2 million project is an alternative to the original $7.7 million plan to widen South Trade to its intersection with Pleasant Plains and Weddington roads. The full project would’ve cost the town about $2.5 million more than its alternative due to the high costs of widening the road along a culvert at Four Mile Creek.
After the widening is complete, the stretch of South Trade will include four lanes with a landscaped median. The improvements also will include a portion of Fullwood Lane near its intersection with South Trade and the “Courtney Connector” – a new entrance and exit from the Courtney neighborhood to the traffic light at MARA – giving Courtney residents easier access to their homes. The entrance to Courtney via South Trade Street will become a right-in/out only.
Plantation Village developers will construct a new entrance and exit from the Hampton Green subdivision to Fullwood Lane, called “Talbot Court,” as part of their own project. The town isn’t sure when Talbot Court will be constructed, but Privette Keller said leaders are hoping it will be at the same time as the South Trade widening.
The improvements approved by commissioners will likely raise taxes by 1.5 cents per $100 of taxable property, according to Town Manager Hazen Blodgett. The tax increase likely won’t begin until the 2015-16 fiscal year, he said.
Mayor Jim Taylor said in the meantime the town will pursue securing funding for the project from outside sources, such as grants and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“We’re also looking at ways to mitigate that (cost) … and it could potentially (cost the town) less” than $5.2 million, Taylor said.
Although the vote to approve the alternative project was unanimous, some commissioners still had reservations. Commissioner Kress Query said he wasn’t thrilled about the town being responsible for widening a state road.
“I do have serious concerns that we’re spending a ton of money on a state road,” he said. “I really don’t believe that it’s gonna improve the (traffic congestion) that much … but I hope it does what it’s supposed to do, and I think, trying to work as a group here, we decided to support (widening) that portion, which we have bond money for.”
The board voted first in May and again on June 10 against the $7.7 million project, with Taylor and commissioners Nancy Moore and Jeff Miller in favor of the full project, and Bailey, Query, John Urban and Suzanne Gulley against it. At the June 10 meeting, several commissioners requested a special meeting, held last week, to work on a compromise.
Prior to the votes, the town had conducted multiple traffic and engineering studies – totaling nearly $1 million – on the South Trade corridor. All studies concluded widening South Trade was the best way to alleviate traffic congestion along the corridor.