Though improvements to a congested stretch of Old Monroe Road are seemingly still in the distance, area leaders, residents and business leaders are starting to plan now to alleviate headaches when the project does move forward.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is currently working with Matthews and Union County’s Indian Trail and Stallings to widen the stretch of road that crosses through the three towns. The project has been broken up into three sections, from South Trade Street in downtown Matthews to Interstate 485, from 1-485 to Indian Trail Road and from Indian Trail Road to Wesley Chapel-Stouts Road.
NCDOT hosted a three-day series of community meetings this week at South Piedmont Community College in Monroe, where they discussed with area residents various ways and alternatives to make the needed changes in the least disturbing way. Adding landscapes and medians, sidewalks and bike lanes were at the top of the ideas and concerns, while other residents want to “just get the job done.” The two-lane stretch sees heavy traffic during morning and evening rush hour, as well as congestion throughout the day, residents said. Adding another two lanes will be essential in the project.
“I just want to know how much of my property is going to be gone,” said Matthews resident Dianne Benton, who has lived on East John Street for about 32 years. Benton said many residents who live off of East John Street want to know how improvements would affect their maneuver off and on the road. “We are talking about two groups of people – people who live off of John St. and people who live on John Street. Their concerns are getting out of the neighborhood. We just want to know, will we have a front yard?”
Currently, only one section of the project, from I-485 to Indian Trail Road, has federal and state funding secured and a potential timeline for when construction could start. NCDOT is working to complete an environmental assessment survey, which most likely won’t be complete until late 2014. NCDOT is targeting 2018 for the section of work, though the date is subject to change due to recent changes in state funding formulas.
The other two sections of the stretch are currently unfunded, though town leaders in Indian Trail have recently held discussions about how to get their section of the project done as soon as possible.
One of the most controversial issues for the project is deciding how the road will be laid out, whether with medians to ensure space for turn lanes, or if the road will become a superstreet, where only right-turns will be permitted and U-turn lanes will be incorporated.
But for town officials like Matthews Commissioner John Urban, finding consistency with the town’s new branding and wayfinding initiatives will be necessary. Many residents mentioned removing the median option altogether to help save right of way space and to maybe cause less disruption for the adjacent properties. Currently, the street’s width stands at about 60 feet, but improvements could increase the width to nearly 160 feet, depending on the addition of medians, bike lanes and sidewalks, NCDOT officials said.
“In all of our conversations, (the Matthews board has) seen (the project) as a tree-lined street. The thing I would encourage is I would put a no vote if there was no median there,” Urban said. “We don’t want that situation that looks like a highway.”
Urban said he’s not sure the Old Monroe project is on the radar for many residents, adding that Matthews leaders’ priorities recently have been spread in many other directions. But he said it’s time to start talking about the project, even if the Matthews section doesn’t have a timeline yet.
“That street is a gateway into Matthews. You just can’t take that road and make it all different” in comparison to other streets in the town, Urban said. “The project is down the road, but it sneaks up on you.”
Elmo Vance, a project manager with NCDOT, said the department is expected to host a citizens informational workshop in December to continue the conversation with area residents. An official date hasn’t been set, but Vance said residents can call NCDOT with any questions or suggestions they may have concerning the project. The December meeting will cover the findings from the three-day workshop and studies and will give residents an idea of the direction of the project and another chance to ask how the project could impact their own homes, businesses or properties.
“We are here to just let residents know, ‘We hear what you are saying, and we are trying to incorporate your ideas into this process,’” Vance said.