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Cornelius News

Widening Catawba means some buildings will likely be removed

Over 100 residents filled the Cornelius Town Hall Community Room Tuesday afternoon to see the plans for widening West Catawba Ave in Cornelius between Jetton Road and Sam Furr Road

Over 100 residents filled the Cornelius Town Hall Community Room Tuesday afternoon to see the plans for widening West Catawba Ave in Cornelius between Jetton Road and Sam Furr Road

June 22. By Dave Vieser. Even though construction is more than three years away, a meeting on the widening of West Catawba Avenue from Jetton Road to Hwy. 73 attracted well over 100 people last night. The purpose of the meeting was to inform citizens about the proposed improvements and to obtain their comments. And comments they got.

According to Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron, the NCDOT plans call for the removal of at least two landmarks on West Catawba: The State Farm business at 18738 W. Catawba and the mini storage buildings, both of which are near the Wherena building, but on the other side of the street.

“The project would go through the middle of the storage buildings,” Herron said. “This plan is still tentative, but this was the last public comment. After last night’s meeting, the NCDOT will be finalizing the plan…and that’s what made last night so critical.”

Close up of the maps on widening project

Close up of the maps on widening project. Click to enlarge

Many who attended were concerned with the maps which showed how much property that may be lost to the project. Others were disheartened to see left turns being prohibited from Catawba to side roads. Yet, there was also some good news for local travelers and residents since the proposal will continue to permit motorists to turn left from a widened West Catawba Ave onto 73, that is, at least until 73 is further widened.

Initially, NCDOT was not going to permit motorists to turn left as many do now to reach Birkdale, I-77 and other points east.

“The 73 widening is about three years behind Catawba,” said DOT Division Engineer Scott Cole. “After talking to the town officials, it made no sense to rebuild the intersection twice.”

The West Catawba widening is currently not scheduled to begin until 2020; Sam Furr Road aka 73 will be widened at some point later on.

Maps showing where the widened four-lane highway may be located were carefully scrutinized by residents. Indeed, the expansion of the road has already brought Classica Homes’ plan for an active adult development to a temporary halt.

However, NCDOT officials were quick to note that the property lines shown on the maps could change. “Those maps represent the ‘worst-case’ scenario of potential construction impacts based on preliminary plans,” said spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Baker. “Construction impacts could mean right-of-way acquisition or it could mean a construction easement or other construction-related activities. We include these maps because we want to encourage anyone who could potentially be impacted by the project to ask questions and participate in the public meeting. We will refine the plans as the process continues.”

But a big concern for businesses is the loss of left turns from Catawba.

Jan Black is coordinator of marketing and special events for Port City Club. “With the widening, they are prohibiting left turns onto Harborside Drive for northbound traffic. A good deal of our customers come up that way so we will fight to get that reversed,” she said.

“With the widening, they are prohibiting left turns onto Harborside Drive for northbound traffic. A good deal of our customers come up that way so we will fight to get that reversed”

– Jan Black

The project is a continuation of improvements completed in 2009 along Catawba Avenue between Jetton Road and I-77.  As most residents already know, existing traffic volumes already exceed the capacity of Catawba Avenue.

Initial DOT plans were for this section to be done in a format where left turns would virtually be prohibited at all intersections. After extensive discussions with the town, the revised plan will allow some left turns and provide bulb-outs where motorists can complete u-turns safely, similar to those in the previously widened section between I-77 and Jetton Road.

One concept which was DOA: A five-lane highway with a middle suicide lane with turns in either direction, still frequently seen in South Carolina and elsewhere. “They are far too dangerous and we will not build any more roads that way” said Cole.

And, as far as the burying of utility lines on West Catawba is concerned, the NCDOT will need a firm decision from the town by mid 2017 so they can incorporate them into the final design. Burying the utilities could cost in the tens of millions of dollars. The town would foot the bill for esthetic improvements over and above a basic roadway between Westmoreland and 73.

Commissioner Jim Duke says burying the utilities is the appropriate way to proceed. Not so, says Commissioner Dave Gilroy. Stay tuned.

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