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Tuesday, 10 February 2015 14:47

Bonus allocation plan favors I-77-area projects

Written by  Lee Sullivan
Direct access ramps into managed lanes are included in the TCC’s recommendations. This example shows such a ramp to reversible managed lanes in Houston. Direct access ramps into managed lanes are included in the TCC’s recommendations. This example shows such a ramp to reversible managed lanes in Houston.

Recommendations to regional planning body include mostly Lake Norman-area projects.

LAKE NORMAN, N.C. -- A wide range of projects from Statesville to Charlotte — including downtown road realignments, intersection upgrades, bicycle, pedestrian and congestion-easing connections and a direct link to future managed lanes on Interstate 77 — are finalists for funding through an anticipated transportation bonus allocation to Iredell and Mecklenburg counties.

The prioritized list of local, regional and state-level projects adopted by the Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC) of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) includes multiple projects in Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville; and just a few in Charlotte. The list was discussed and adopted at last week's TCC session and forwarded to CRTPO for review and consideration.

CRTPO's analysis of the 22 proposed expenditures, with estimated individual project costs ranging from $600,000 for an intersection improvement in Mooresville to $30 million for a managed lane direct-access interchange at Stumptown Road in Huntersville, will begin at the group's meeting next Wednesday, with the first phase of a multi-step approval process expected in March.

Mecklenburg and Iredell counties are due to receive up to $158 million in North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) "Bonus Allocation" funds affiliated with the 26-mile managed lane project on I-77 between Charlotte and Mooresville. The funds are provided to regions that accept toll road projects or commit local funds toward state projects. The bonus is designed to direct part of the funding associated with this type of venture back to the region as an incentive for pursuing alternative means of funding. In this case, the amount of the allocation is a percentage of the amount borrowed and scheduled to be paid back by I-77 Mobility Partners through the collection of tolls on the I-77 lanes.

The bonus allocation guidelines require that more than half the funds — in this case, at least $87.6 million — be used on statewide mobility projects, which primarily means interstate-related improvements. Because of past regulations and designations, parts of Independence Boulevard (N.C. 74) and N.C. 49 in Charlotte would also qualify under the state category. Every dollar of the bonus allocation could be used on state projects, but there are limits in place on how much can be spent on regional projects involving state highways and roads (no more than $48.6 million) and division work on more localized projects (no more than $22 million).

The TCC-approved list includes five local-level (division) projects and nine regional projects using every bit of money — and more — allowed in those categories. The projects exceed their financing limits by a combined $8.5 million, which Huntersville Transportation Planner and TCC member Bill Coxe said was basic "over programming" designed to claim all the money allotted while accepting it is unlikely all projects could be completed in the bonus allocation's five-year time frame. Eight state-level proposals fall just short ($100,000) of that category's bonus allocation expenditure target.

The 22 projects that made the TCC's final cut were culled from a much larger list of requests for bonus allocation funding. Coxe said more than 75 projects, with a total estimated price tag of more than $1 billion, were submitted for consideration in the two-county area. In reviewing proposals, Coxe said the TCC gave added weight to projects in close proximity to the I-77 corridor, set out to use the maximum amount allowed at both the regional and district levels and also considered the potential for completing each project during the five-year bonus allocation window.

On the list

Direct-access ramps at Stumptown Road in Huntersville are an example of state-level improvements qualified for bonus allocation consideration. The $30 million project would involve upgrades to the Stumptown overpass and the addition of middle-of-the-bridge ramps to and from the managed lanes on I-77.

At the Huntersville planning retreat in late January, Coxe outlined the plan for town commissioners and triggered a conversation that illustrates some of the confusion related to the bonus allocation program. Commissioners Danny Phillips and Rob Kidwell said they didn't want bonus allocation funds used to enhance the managed lanes project and Commissioner Melinda Bales said she also didn't fully understand that approach.

"Why would we use bonus allocation money to help the managed lane project?" she asked Coxe.

"Because it would help us serve motorists here and address some of our congestion," Coxe said, explaining that the ramps to the managed lanes would give local motorists a new route choice, lessen traffic volumes at other interstate exchanges and allow smoother operation with less merging on the interstate lanes.

And he added that local options for projects that meet the state-level requirements were limited, citing preliminary work on the Torrence Creek Greenway underpass (a $6 million project that also made the TCC's final list) as the only other Huntersville-specific item.

Construction of roundabouts at the Griffith Street/I-77 exchange at Exit 30 in Davidson ($3 million) is the other north Mecklenburg project on the state-level list. A bridge replacement and road corridor upgrade at the Broad Street/I-77 exit in Statesville ($30 million) and two studies — one of the feasibility of additional direct-access managed lane ramps ($3 million) and another on the entire Statesville-Charlotte-Rock Hill I-77 corridor ($2.5 million) — were also on the list of state-wide suggestions.

At the regional funding level, projects in Huntersville, Cornelius and Mooresville account for eight of the nine items on the list. Requests include funding for:

• Huntersville's Main Street district upgrades ($5 million), which may still feature some aspects of the long-discussed two-way pair;

• Huntersville's U.S. 21/Gilead Road intersection realignment ($3.5 million), a project already in motion now estimated to cost more than $11 million, leaving a $4 million-plus funding gap for the town;

• Construction of a roundabout at the U.S. 21/Catawba Avenue intersection in Cornelius ($6.7 million);

• Widening of U.S. 21 between Northcross Center Court and Westmoreland Road in Cornelius ($23 million);

• Improvements at the Potts Street/N.C. 115 intersection in Cornelius ($6 million);

• Two widening projects on N.C. 150 in Mooresville for pedestrian and bicycle use ($7.1 million, combined); and

• Upgrades to the N.C. 801/N.C. 150 intersection in Mooresville ($600,000).

At the local level, projects submitted for bonus allocation consideration include:

• Davidson's Potts-Sloan-Beatty project ($2.2 million), a connection of roads west of Main Street designed to provide an alternative north-south route through the center of town;

• Intersection improvements at Torrence Chapel Road and West Catawba Avenue in Cornelius ($5 million);

• A new road in a new location as an extension of Northcross Drive in Cornelius ($2 million); and

• A new network of roads and other changes associated with the planned Fairview Road flyover across I-77 in Mooresville ($8 million).

The next step in the process is for CRTPO to review the package prepared by the TCC, which also listed projects to be considered for "direct attributable" funding assistance through the NCDOT, at its Feb. 18 meeting. Changes to the list could be suggested in March prior to CRTPO's March 18 meeting. Bonus allocation projects should be included among CRTPO's other planning documents by early summer.

2 comments

  • Comment Link Pete Monday, 16 February 2015 08:38 posted by Pete

    Whatever you think it is going to cost it is twice that. Whatever benefits you will get is half that. Maybe we could fund it with the millions being made by the government run cable company instead...wait.

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  • Comment Link Barry Monday, 16 February 2015 08:30 posted by Barry

    They forgot to tell you. This is all paid for by $20 tolls to Charlotte to go to the airport. All we need and want is an extra lane on I-77. I am not understanding what that is so darn hard for our "leaders" to understand.

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