The Monroe Bypass may still be in limbo, but the project remains a hot topic among local business leaders.
Elected officials and business leaders throughout Union County showed up at South Piedmont Community College on Feb. 5 for a sneak peek at some of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s upcoming Union County projects. The event, a business leaders breakfast hosted by the Union County Chamber of Commerce, featured keynote speaker John Underwood with the NCDOT, who discussed the planned bypass, the widening of Old Monroe Road from Matthews to Indian Trail, a Rea Road extension in the Weddington area and other scheduled road improvements.
Underwood and Rick Baucom, the Monroe Bypass project manager, said despite recent setbacks they’re still working hard to push the bypass project forward. Baucom said NCDOT was originally hoping to get a new record of decision by March or April, but learned over the past couple of weeks it’ll likely be late 2013 or early 2014 before that comes to pass, if it does.
“In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a lot of meetings with the Federal Highway Administration, going through where we are there, where we think we need to be to get their approval and move forward and, unfortunately, we now think that’s going to take us a lot longer than we originally anticipated,” Baucom said at the breakfast.
A 19.7-mile stretch of highway just north of U.S. 74, the Monroe Bypass would offer drivers a way to bypass traffic on U.S. 74 from Stallings to Marshville. The controversial project was put on hold in May 2012 after the Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals ruled against the transportation department in a lawsuit brought against the state by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Yadkin Riverkeeper, who claimed the state and the Federal Highway Administration neglected to conduct studies adequately evaluating the project’s environmental impact.
State transportation officials behind the project felt another heavy blow in July 2012 when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear the case. The NCDOT was forced to stop acquiring right of way following the court’s May decision.
Baucom said there’s still a considerable amount of right of way, particularly commercial parcels, that will need to be acquired along the corridor from N.C. 601 going west toward Indian Trail and Stallings. Because the NCDOT acquired the majority of the right of way along the corridor on the east side of N.C. 601, construction would likely start on the Marshville end of the bypass if and when the project is given the green light.
One of the key questions the NCDOT will have to address as it seeks approval for the project is whether the bypass is still necessary for Union County. Underwood said the NCDOT firmly believes the bypass is a vital solution to alleviate the increasing traffic congestion along U.S. 74, although other improvements along the highway’s Union County corridor also are necessary.
“There are some improvement projects out there for 74. They’re in concept now, not funded,” Underwood said. “For 74, the whole corridor is going to need to be improved, no matter if the bypass gets built or not. But there’s no way to improve 74 in a way that it would function like the bypass.”
He added they’re looking at tweaking some of the entrance points along U.S. 74’s Union County corridor through intersection improvements and movement restrictions aimed at increasing traffic flow.
“For years, if someone came in and development opened up and they wanted a signal, it was granted,” he said. “So that’s why you have this, every block you have a signal. You have to balance that happy medium between access and
mobility, because everybody wants access and they want full access. But if you get enough full access, then people can’t even get into the area.”
Other projects mentioned included plans to extend Rea Road past Providence Road South to Weddington Road. The first phase of the project would include a two-lane extension and is scheduled for construction in 2017.
Underwood also announced a three-section plan to widen Old Monroe Road from Matthews to Indian Trail. Section A would widen the road from Interstate 485 toward Charlotte, Section B from Interstate 485 to Stallings Road and Section C from Stallings Road to Wesley Chapel-Stouts Road, he said.
Underwood said Section B is funded and scheduled for construction in 2018 and the NCDOT is working on the environmental documents in Raleigh now, but there’s also a push to include the funding of Section C with Section B.
“Indian Trail is involved and they’re working with us to try to accelerate the project, so we’re hoping that we could make that come together and build it all at once,” Underwood said.
Underwood also mentioned plans to add a roundabout at N.C. 84 and Weddington-Matthews Road sometime later this year as well as plans to improve the intersection at Potter and Pleasant Plains roads.
In the meantime, Baucom said the NCDOT would continue to work on solidifying the Monroe Bypass project so the state can hopefully move forward with it by the first of next year.
“Unless our new analysis proves otherwise, we still feel like the Monroe Bypass is the way to go,” he said. “We’re behind it. For us, there’s no question as to what we’d like to do. The time we’re taking between now and late this year or early next year is to make sure … that we can move forward, win the case and build the road.”