Drivers may see less congestion at intersection

by Tori Hamby

CHARLOTTE – Commuters on N.C. 16 and Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road may see a reduction in traffic congestion by the end of the year if the state approves a city traffic proposal.

District 2 Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, who represents the Mountain Island area, said he will petition the N.C. Department of Transportation in late May for a turning lane off of N.C. 16 into Walmart, located near the intersection of N.C. 16 and Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road, to help improve traffic flow. He has enlisted area businesses to help the city fund the $750,000 to $1 million project.

“It’s great that we’ve had all this growth during the last few years, but we’ve waited long enough,” Mitchell said. “We need Raleigh to give us the OK.”

As traffic patterns stand, Walmart shoppers coming from Mount Holly on Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road have to cross N.C. 16 and turn left onto Callabridge Court to enter the store’s parking lot. During peak hours, traffic often backs up behind the two left turning lanes at the entrance of Callabridge Commons. With even more drivers trying to access additional Callabridge Commons businesses and restaurants, such as Chick-fil-A and Mountain Island Fitness, traffic worsens, Overlook resident Steve Swicegood said.

The proposed turning lane, Mitchell said, would allow drivers coming from Uptown Charlotte on N.C. 16 to make a direct right into Walmart and drivers coming from Denver to make a direct left. The lane would divert Walmart traffic away from Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road.

“During Christmas time when Walmart is really busy, traffic gets so backed up that you can pretty much finish reading the newspaper while traveling less than three miles,” Mitchell said.

Scott Cole, an N.C. DOT engineer, said the state will consider adding the turning lanes if the city can show that adding the lanes will not slow down traffic on N.C. 16. He said the state wants to prevent the stop-and-go traffic found on Independence Boulevard, caused by cars using left and right turning lanes to turn into businesses.

“We want to limit access (to N.C. 16) because access can sometimes restrict flow,” Cole said.

Mitchell also has proposed a $250,000 project that would place a median and traffic light at the intersection of CoulOak Road and Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road. The city’s capital improvement program would fund the project, and Mitchell said he will know when, or if, the project will begin after the city finalizes its budget in June.

Swicegood, who also has served as president of the Mountain Island Neighborhoods Organization, said the intersection’s trouble started brewing when N.C. DOT began extending I-485 in 2008.

Exit 16 off I-485 to exits onto N.C. 16.

The additional traffic from the interstate brings a barrage of vehicles through the intersection, Swicegood said.

“Common sense told us trouble was coming because of the closeness of the ramps to the intersection,” Swicegood said.

The transportation department initially told nearby residents that it planned to build bridges over the intersection with interior roads underneath to alleviate the problem, but state transportation officials did not include the project in their 20-year plan. Then the economy tanked, Swicegood said, leaving residents to believe that it may take decades before N.C. DOT starts up discussions about the redesign.

Cole said plans for the bridge structure are still on the table but will probably not materialize for a while.

“It’s an eventuality,” Cole said. “It’s not a funded project at the moment.”

If the transportation department turns down Mitchell’s proposal, residents would have to wait indefinitely for N.C. DOT to step in or for new development. Cambridge Properties plans to eventually build Mountain Island Promenade, a mixed-use residential/retail development located directly across from Callabridge Commons. Once construction starts, developer George Maloomian would have to pay for intersection improvements.

But both solutions seem unlikely, Swicegood said, because Mountain Island Promenade has been stalled for about five years due to the economy.

“The ideal solution is that they should make intersection improvements without waiting for the next developer,” Swicegood said. “The (state) government created this problem, and I don’t think it’s fair for the next developer to come in and pay for the sins of everyone else.”

N.C. DOT turned down a similar request for turning lanes about eight years ago. But Mitchell said he feels hopeful that Raleigh will give the city’s transportation department a go-ahead. He said at least five area corporate businesses have shown interest in helping with funding, with the city offering to fund the remaining cost.

If the transportation committee approves the proposal, lane construction could begin in August, Mitchell said.

“We feel that Raleigh has looked at this project as project No. 281 that will be built in 2028,” Mitchell said. “With the corporate community and citizens working together for the same cause, hopefully we can show them how badly this is needed.”

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