Roughly half of the $11.5 million in transportation and $5.25 million in park and recreation bonds have been issued in Phase I of a planned two-phase process, money the town has leveraged with an assortment of grants and other state funding to invest in five road/intersection and seven park and recreation projects, including renovations, repairs and new greenways.
“You’ll notice parks and rec has done a great job of spending money,” Grant told commissioners, the bulk of its seven projects for $2.35 million either complete or nearing completion.
Road projects, however, take much more time to plan and execute, some of them coordinated with other scheduled projects to leverage public and private dollars. To date only $758,703 of the $5.488 million in Phase I road bonds has been spent, but the remainder of those funds will be spent as construction gets under way. Those projects include:
• Bailey Road/N.C. 115 Improvements. Add extended turn lanes to all approaches to the intersection. Final construction plans are currently being reviewed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Town will invest $900,000 of the $2.1 million estimated cost. Design began December 2014, right-of-way acquisition is scheduled for spring 2017 and construction in fall 2017. The project is being built in conjunction with construction of a new convenience store and eventual office buildings on the southwest corner of the intersection.
• Gem Street Extension: Extend Gem Street to Oak Street with additional improvements to Willow Street. Design began January 2015, right-of-way acquisition begins spring 2017 and construction begins fall 2017. The project will provide connectivity south of, and as an alternative to, Catawba Avenue. Costs are combined with:
• Hickory Street Extension: Extend Hickory Street from Zion Avenue to Lovers Lawn Trace in Antiquity. Total budget on Gem Street/Hickory Street extensions is $2.33 million. Total spent to date is $509.550. Property acquisition is complete and bids are due mid-February. Construction to begin April 2017.
At this point, Commissioner Dave Gilroy chimed in on the presentation commenting on the price of small projects as a example of why meaningful infrastructure improvements are time-consuming and costly.
“These little extensions are very modest,” he said. “We’re hopeful that every little improvement on the east side will create more options … to take some of the load off Catawba. Here you have two very modest projects that cost more than 10 percent of our annual budget and are three or four years in the planning.”
And then the listing continued:
• U.S. Highway 21 Connector: Connect Smith Circle to U.S. 21 to provide an alternative to Catawba Avenue. Design began November 2014. Drawings currently being reviewed by North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources and NCDOT. Total budget $1.75 million. Total spent to date $72,805. There are currently no connections into the Smithville neighborhood, but that remains an option.
• Bailey Road Realignment: Straighten the sharp curve on Bailey Road between the entrances to Pool Place and Oakhurst. Conceptual design is under way and concepts will be presented to the town board upon completion of NCDOT and TRANSCO (gas pipeline) scoping discussion regarding the existing pipeline in the vicinity. Kimley-Horn Associates began design of this project in March 2016.
Assuming that the pipeline scoping discussions end favorably, town staff will bring the board a follow-up contract to begin development of construction drawings. Phase II of the approved transportation bonds is a potential construction funding source of the current cost estimate of $5.75 million. Design budget is $84,140, total spent to date is $41,473.
Grant told commissioners when staff prioritized road project recommendations, it factored the timetable of pending state projects in order to direct the town’s money to needed projects not yet on the NCDOT’s Transportation Improvement Program schedule.
“When we went through the process of what to spend money on when it comes to road projects, we went to projects that weren’t being funded by other entities,” Grant told the board. “An example was Highway 21 (which is scheduled to be widened by NCDOT between Westmoreland Road and the Huntersville town limit). “Why put money toward Highway 21 (improvement) projects when the state was funding it?”
Rather, Grant said, the town opted to dedicate its resources to improving the intersection of N.C. 115 and Bailey Road. “When you look at when the DOT will widen 115, we’re a good 15 to 20 years out so it makes a lot of sense for our residents to receive some relief at that intersection now.”
Grant also highlighted under way and completed projects being paid for with the Phase I issue of park and recreation bonds. They include:
• Bailey Road Park Trails and Soccer Parking Lot Paving: Add new exit drive from soccer parking lot and 20 new parking spaces. Repave existing asphalt trails. Total cost, $147,000. Completed fall 2015.
• Bailey Road Park Tennis and Basketball Court Renovation: Resurface three existing tennis courts and two existing basketball courts. Total cost $166,000 including a $13,000 USTA grant. Completed fall 2015.
• Multi-Park Restroom Renovations: Renovate restrooms at Smithville, Torrence Chapel, Legion and Bailey Road parks. Increase storage and add splash pad pump room at Smithville Park. Total cost, $411,000. Completed fall 2015.
• Cornelius Elementary School Neighborhood Park: Four new tee-ball fields, two new flag football fields, irrigation, lighting, one-fourth-mile walking trail, restroom and basketball court. Total cost $1.4 million. Completed fall 2016.
• Caldwell Station Creek Greenway: Construct 2.6-mile greenway from N.C. 115 and Bailey Road to U.S. 21. Total cost approximately $4.15 million including $250,000 from park bonds, $735,000 from town general fund and $3.165 million grant. Completion in spring 2017.
• McDowell Creek Greenway: Construct 1.6 miles of greenway from Westmoreland Road to Catawba Avenue. Total cost $2.58 million including $1.38 million in park bonds and $1.2 million grant. Completion in fall 2017.
• Antiquity Greenway: Construct 0.6 mile of greenway from North Zion Avenue to South Prong Greenway. Total cost $1.05 million including $210,000 in park bonds and $840,000 grant. Completion in spring 2018.
Commissioners will receive the remaining portion of the scheduled mini-retreat presentation when Town Manager Anthony Roberts is expected to lead a discussion of the remaining $5.75 million in approved Phase I bonds as well as future bond opportunities. Phase II of the 2013 bonds must be issued by 2020, but the town can petition the Local Government Commission for a three-year extension.
The Town of Cornelius’ annual planning and budget retreat is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, March 8-9, at Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston-Salem.