The finalization of the route for the North-South Parkway has been in the works since 1987.
Though several municipalities and organizations have taken steps to finalize a route within their own jurisdictions to move the parkway project along, there hasn’t been a comprehensive effort among all affected municipalities spanning from Charlotte to Mooresville to find the best route until now, according to Gresham Smith Transportation Planner Sean Flaherty.
“And when we were first talking to the towns about helping them, because we’re the consulting agency for the project, I drove the whole corridor,” Flaherty said. “And it’s wild. There’s definitely some challenges with some of the subdivisions especially.”
Construction of subdivisions within what Flaherty called the “preliminary corridor” for the parkway is just one of the things that could – and has – complicated the process of finding a route from northeastern Charlotte to downtown Mooresville that meets what Town of Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe called “three-legged stool” requirements.
“You want to pick out the best route for the natural and the human environment,” Coxe said. “That helps you achieve the land goals you have.”
Trying to balance the land use, human and natural requirements is “a dance,” and the longer a specific route is not chosen for the future parkway, the harder that dance becomes.
That’s because, if a plot of land within the corridor is developed before the route is set, the developer of that land doesn’t have to take responsibility for building part of the road.
“Right now it’s just a dashed line – not good enough to tell anyone whose property is affected by that,” Coxe said. “So if Joe Landowner sells his land to a developer who wants to subdivide, if Bill the Planner can’t tell the developer that it’s through (there), then Bill cannot make the developer abide by that, which means there’s a development in the path of it. And when you have to build (the parkway), there might be hell to pay.”
Because of this, according to Flaherty, Coxe and Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission Executive Director Bill Thunberg, it is important to get the exact route of the future parkway set as soon as possible.
“Development is going to be moving away from the lake toward the east,” Thunberg said. “And so we need to preserve this corridor to be able to provide mobility options as that development starts moving more toward the east toward Cabarrus County.”
Setting the route
In order to determine where the route might go, the towns of Mooresville, Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson, as well as Iredell County, are jointly funding a sub-area study to gather public input, environmental studies and traffic data on the corridor.
“And the study is going to respect the desires of each community,” Thunberg said. “For example, Huntersville, because they’re closer to Charlotte, already has in their planning a cross-section for the North-South Parkway in their plan. And it’s actually under construction now. And it’s a four-lane, median-divided segment.”
But, Thunberg said, the Town of Davidson would prefer to have a two-lane road for their section of the parkway.
“So in developing what this facility would look like, we have to respect Davidson’s desire to maintain a two-lane cross-section with pedestrian (and) bike paths on both sides and see how all of that works together and achieve the goals of having that type of facility,” Thunberg said.
In addition to considering what towns want, Thunberg and Flaherty said they are keenly interested in what area residents want.
“This is the opportunity to tell decision makers in your community what’s important to you,” Flaherty said. “And that’s different for certain people. For some people it might be as straightforward as, ‘During peak commute hours, I want to be able to get to work and home as fast and painlessly as possible.’ And that’s a priority for a lot of people. For others, it’s, ‘We moved to Davidson because we want our kids to be able to bike around our neighborhood, and safety is our biggest concern.’”
No matter what residents’ priorities are, Flaherty said their input will be vital in the decision-making process of where the route will go and what it will look like.
“We have to get that kind of feedback, because there is a decision-making process where you have to weigh different options,” Flaherty said. “You can’t have it all. There’s not nearly the budget that the state and the local governments need for transportation improvements. So there’s always going to be trade-offs.”
The sub-area study began in May and should take about 11 months to complete. There will be another opportunity for public input in February 2019 after planners complete more research.