Business

Widening of W. Catawba means change for merchants

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By Dave Vieser. Even though construction is more than three years away, a meeting in June about  widening West Catawba Avenue in Cornelius from Jetton Road to Hwy. 73 attracted well over 100 people, including many business owners.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform everyone about the proposed improvements and to obtain their comments. And comments they got: Lake Norman Chamber President Bill Russell has called West Catawba “Lake Norman’s Main Street.”

“We will fight to get that [no left turn] reversed”

– Jan Black, Port City Club

The NCDOT plans call for the removal of at least two businesses: The State Farm building at 18738 W. Catawba and the mini storage buildings nearby, both of which are across from the Wherena Marina building.

“This plan is still tentative, but this was the last opportunity for the public to comment,” said Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron.

For the remainder of this year, the NCDOT will be finalizing the plan, and prepare for property acquisition. So if there are any changes to be made, they must be done soon.

One of the major concerns among commercial property owners on West Catawba are plans to eliminate many left turns along the widened stretch, which will be divided by a median.

Studies indicate that while destination businesses, such as a furniture store, are not severely impacted, impulse businesses, such as a fast food, can suffer when left turns are restricted. This could be especially harmful to businesses such as Dunkin Donuts and Penn Station Subs, which opened less than a year ago right along the stretch that is to be widened.

Jan Black, coordinator of marketing and special events at Port City Club, said “we will fight to get that [no left turn] reversed.”

NCDOT’s Warren Cooksey says they are attempting to eliminate left turns along newly widened roads and at newly widened intersections as much as possible because they are “unsafe, inefficient and not pedestrian friendly.”

The proposed expansion of the road has already had a significant impact on one well-known builder: Classica Homes had planned to build 40 attached, age-restricted single-family homes on West Catawba, across from Elevation Church.

However, when the footprint for the widened road was unveiled, Classica put the project on hold. “We hated to do this at the last minute” said Rick Jasinski of Classica Homes. “But the information we received from the NCDOT brought the widened road further onto our property. We’re evaluating whether the homes would be viable with the widened road.”

“The 73 widening is about three years behind Catawba. After talking to the town officials and hearing their concerns, we agreed that it made no sense to rebuild the intersection twice.”

-Scott Cole, NCDOT Division Engineer

There was also some good news: The proposal will continue to permit motorists to turn left from a widened West Catawba Ave onto Hwy. 73—at least until 73 is further widened. Initially, NCDOT was not going to permit motorists to turn left toward Birkdale, I-77 and other points east.

“The 73 widening is about three years behind Catawba,” said NCDOT Division Engineer Scott Cole. “After talking to the town officials and hearing their concerns, we agreed that it made no sense to rebuild the intersection twice.”

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

While maps showing where the widened four-lane highway may be located were carefully scrutinized, NCDOT officials emphasized that the final route and impact could still change.

“Those maps represent the ‘worst-case’ scenario of potential construction impacts based on preliminary plans,” said NCDOT 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 will refine the plans this year as the process continues.”

“Construction impacts could mean right-of-way acquisition or it could mean a construction easement or other construction-related activities. We will refine the plans this year as the process continues.”

Jordan Ashley-Baker, NCDOT spokeswoman

The project is a continuation of improvements completed in 2009 along Catawba Avenue between Jetton Road and I-77.  Existing traffic volumes already exceed the capacity of Catawba Avenue.

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 to 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 aesthetic 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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