MATTHEWS – Congestion on U.S.74 could soon be alleviated, but not before a large-scale construction project by N.C. Department of Transportation.
NCDOT has finished its preliminary design and environmental assessment for the project. It has begun the public comment portion of the plan to widen 6.4 miles of U.S.74 from west of Idlewild Road all the way to I-485 in Matthews. After public comments are done, the design and analysis process will continue and construction is set to begin in 2022.
Plans for improving traffic flow include removing traffic signals, building bridges and grade separations, adding a general-purpose lane on each side and adding an auxiliary lane on each side for right-in and right-out access. NCDOT also plans to add an express lane to each side of the road, which will serve as a toll road to decrease traffic.
NCDOT is also taking pedestrians and bicyclists into consideration with this project.
Before working on Independence Boulevard itself, NCDOT plans to first build out the parallel road network along Independence Boulevard, including Independence Pointe Parkway, Northeast Parkway and Krefeld Drive. If everything goes according to schedule, construction on the parallel road network would begin in 2022.
“The basic gist is to convert this to help move traffic more efficiently because there’s routine congestion and bottlenecks on 74,” NCDOT Communications Officer Jen Thompson said. “The purpose of this project is to provide a more reliable travel time for drivers.”
Thompson said feedback from the public is essential to the process of widening U.S. 74. She said all comments from the public carry the same weight, whether they are emailed, mailed or submitted online.
Maps can still be viewed online and NCDOT will still be able to answer questions. Thompson said the public comment period ends toward the end of February.
“We can’t always know every minute detail of everything that’s going on,” Thompson said. “Someone might know something that we had overlooked or missed and they can say, ‘don’t forget about this,’ and if it fits in with the needs and purpose of our project, which is to provide that reliable travel time, it’s something we could possibly incorporate into the design. These are not final plans, so it’s still very fluid right now.”
Thompson said the addition of express lanes has become more common throughout the country. When NCDOT and the City of Charlotte conducted a fast lane study in 2007, U.S. 74, I-485 and I-77 were found as the roads that would benefit most from express lanes, which is why NCDOT is building an express lane network.
“This is a project that has the support of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, so it’s not something that’s happening at random,” Thompson said. “It has the full support of the local metropolitan planning group.”
Because NCDOT is widening US-74, some businesses and residences will be affected. Right-of-way agents will contact those affected and arrange a meeting with them in which they will advise how the project will affect them. NCDOT will also hire professionals to appraise the properties so that the right-of-way agents can make them an offer. NCDOT also plans to provide additional assistance to those affected in the forms of advice and compensation.
Matthews resident Greg Icenhour attended a public meeting Jan. 28 at the Levine Campus of Central Piedmont Community College. He thinks the project is ambitious and residents will need to adjust to a significant amount of change in the traffic flow.
Icenhour said his immediate concern was the parallel road network around Independence.
“Assuming everything goes as planned and they’ve got all these feeder roads completely constructed, can they handle the diversion of traffic that’s going to happen when they start construction on Independence itself? Because a lot of people will try to avoid it, myself included,” Icenhour said. “Will these feeder roads, with all the traffic lights and the roundabouts, be able to handle the volume of traffic that’s likely to be diverted off of Independence, especially when you’ve got bridge construction?”
Despite his immediate concerns, Icenhour said he thinks the project will be good in the long-run. He especially looks forward to the project alleviating the traffic between Margaret Wallace and Sam Newell roads along Independence Boulevard.
“I think the concept to make this more of a freeway with right-ins and right-outs will improve the traffic flow in the east and west directions, which I think is a good thing,” Icenhour said. “I just don’t have any idea of what it will do to the businesses. You can see they’ll be losing access to their properties, but I’m assuming it will all get worked out.”
Citizens can submit comments and concerns, view maps and watch videos explaining the project online at www.publicinput.com/I-485_US-74_Charlotte.