MATTHEWS – After a presentation by N.C. Department of Transportation officials regarding the future widening of N.C. 51 from Matthews-Mint Hill Road in town to Lawyers Road in Mint Hill on May 28, Matthews commissioners discussed adding a “Welcome to Matthews” sign at the Idlewild Road roundabout.
That probably won’t happen as the roundabout that was opened in 2017 at a cost of almost $2 million will be no more when the widening of the N.C. 51 is completed in the coming years.
NCDOT officials told the board that construction on the four-mile project is slated to start in fall 2022 at the earliest. NCDOT, which gave the same presentation to Mint Hill leaders on May 29, will meet with local officials and conduct a public meeting this summer while formalizing the final design.
Right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin in spring 2020 and that lengthy process could push the start of construction back to 2023. The relocation of water and sewer lines and electric and gas utilities will be done in the pre-construction phase.
Commissioner Kress Query asked NCDOT Division Engineer Scott Cole if starting construction in late 2022 was realistic.
“It’s a goal. Looking at this schedule, it is very aggressive,” Cole said. “This is a very lengthy project and there are hundreds of parcels that will be touched for right-of-way acquisition. Part of that time frame for right-of-way acquisition is also utility relocation. All of that will have to be coordinated with the utility companies.’’
The new highway will have six reduced conflict signalized intersections, what the NCDOT now calls superstreets, from Senna Drive/Polo Club Road in Matthews to Phyliss Lane in Mint Hill. There will be traditional intersections at Brighton Park Drive and Lawyers Road in Mint Hill.
During the presentation, NCDOT officials said they were recommending RCI intersections because it reduces severe crashes, especially side-impact collisions, and they are safer for pedestrians.
“I think it is interesting that we are now calling superstreets RCIs,” Commissioner John Higdon said.
Regarding the welcome sign on the roundabout, Town Manager Hazen Blodgett told the board the sign would probably be up for at least five years. The cost estimate for the project, which included landscaping, was around $50,000.
“Unless we could use the sign somewhere else, I wouldn’t spend one dime on it,” Higdon said. “Even if we are tearing it down in five years, that is a waste of money unless we can use it elsewhere.’’
Commissioner John Urban noted that talk of putting up a welcome sign started before town officials became aware that NCDOT was proposing removing the roundabout as part of the widening project.
“I think people would laugh at us (if the sign was put up),” Urban said.
After the discussion, Blodgett told the board that town staff would come back to with a proposal for just landscaping the roundabout with the possibility of a welcome sign that could be moved once construction starts.
Mint Hill is also considering a welcome sign on its portion of the roundabout but the town may also look at other options after hearing the NCDOT presentation.
Mint Hill Commissioner Michael Cochrane said he was pleased with the initial plans of the widening project and said it could be up to five years before the roundabout disappears.
“We looked at them with wide eyes and we said, ‘You are going to tear up that roundabout, you just finished it,’” Cochrane said. “They said it doesn’t work in the plan they have for widening 51. Highway 51 needs to be widened, the traffic is already here and we have to have a way to handle the traffic flow.
“When people first hear about this they are going to think, ‘Oh, my gosh. You can’t make left-hand turns, they are going to do away with the roundabout that just got built.’ I think they (NCDOT) know what they are doing, and we have to leave it in the hands of professionals who know what they are doing.’’