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Cornelius News

DOT’s freeway-like plans for West Catawba may stall

featured_catawbaaveBy Dave Yochum. Town officials are trying to put the brakes on an even more aggressive approach to widening the two-lane western half of West Catawba than the eastern part, which resulted in the loss of many left-hand turns into stores between Torrence Chapel and Jetton.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is recommending a “superstreet” plan for Catawba from Jetton to Sam Furr Road. The superstreet concept basically eliminates left-hand turns from side streets onto West Catawba. The most extreme plan would eliminate lefts from Jetton onto Catawba.

Mayor Chuck Travis said any plan for widening Catawba from Jetton  to Sam Furr will come with a set of givens: Jetton, Nantz and Westmoreland are “full movement” intersections, as well as the intersection of Catawba and Sam Furr.

The DOT is suggesting that west-bound traffic on Catawba Avenue turn right on Sam Furr, then make a U-turn to head toward Birkdale Village on a superstreet that would supercede Catawba.

Mayor Travis said he plans to have a discussion with Publix, which took over Magnolia Plaza well before the superstreet concept was broached. A superstreet would take away the left-hand turn for west-bound traffic into Magnolia Plaza adjacent to the CommunityOne branch.

Retailers are not happy.

West Catawba stakeholder Mike Griffin, one of the owners of the Griffin Bros. Cos., which has an auto repair store and office building on West Catawba, said the concept would have a dramatic impact on any retailers that rely on impulse decisions—gas stations, for example, or casual dining.

A Dunkin Donuts is coming to West Catawba where the self-service carwash was, while a mixed-use project is planned nearby.

“The vision I and a lot of other people have for West Catawba is a main street with a lot of live, work and play opportunities,” he said. Being able to turn left—whether you’re heading east or west—is critical. “We’re woefully short on ‘work,’” Griffin said. “There are not enough commercial buildings and offices.”

He said the concept has some validity, “but how it fits in our town, we have to weigh the benefits…I’m of the opinion it will have a negative impact.”

Superstreets are as much as 200 feet wide to accommodate the turning radius of a big-rig truck. Crossing a superstreet on foot is not for the faint of heart.

It also doesn’t jive with the personal, pedestrian-friendly scale of Catawba around Robbins Park and Robbins Preserve, not to mention a variety of residential developments including Kings Point and Vineyard Point.

“I have no doubt their design would get people from Point A to Point B quicker, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” Griffin said, explaining that the superstreet concept would stifle development between intersections and U-turns.

Town Commissioner Jim Duke said he drove Poplar Tent Road in Concord for an “up close and personal look” at what NCDOT is proposing for West Catawba.

“The  superstreet does what it says, it moves traffic more efficiently and perhaps more safely.  But for me, that’s where the benefits end.  First and foremost the section of Poplar Tent Road that I drove was not a street, it was a highway, and a wide one to boot,” Duke said.

“I believe that when prior boards planned to widen West Catawba, their vision was what we have for Phase I, from Torrence Chapel  to Jetton,” Duke said.

“Such a dramatic widening would completely change the character of West Catawba, turning it into a broad highway instead of Main Street Cornelius. There is much to explore and much conversation to be had before this project is blessed,” Duke said.