HUNTERSVILLE – Commissioners and staff members agree the town’s current policy requiring intersection improvements linked to new developments is not working. Now they are focused on finding other ways to achieve the same traffic-management goals.
Prior to the town board’s March 4 meeting, following a longer discussion about the Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) policy at the town’s annual planning retreat a month earlier, Transportation Engineer Stephen Trott highlighted the shortcomings of the current TIA and asked the board for guidance on the next steps to take.
The TIA is a part of the town’s pre-development review process. It is designed to identify intersections where traffic flow efficiency would be negatively impacted by a proposed project and define improvements a developer should make to offset that impact. The process usually requires a developer to hire a consultant to compile the TIA data and submit the findings, and a significant commitment of time and personnel by the town to review and evaluate the report.
But, as Trott explained at the retreat and reiterated in the pre-meeting discussion, often the time and money invested in the TIA doesn’t produce results.
“The bottomline is we’re going through a whole lot of effort for a little benefit,” Trott told commissioners. He said compared to the time and financial requirements the TIA places on developers, and the staff time necessary to analyze the conclusions, “We’re just not getting a lot out of it” in terms of the intersection upgrades the policy was designed require.
“The tool we have,” he summarized, “is just not doing it.”
Options to consider
When pressed by commissioners for ideas about other traffic impact mitigation solutions, Trott and Town Engineer Max Buchanan, as they did at the retreat, recommended the first step involve a thorough evaluation of how the town’s current intersections are performing.
Trott said he’d like to conduct a study of town intersections not already in the pipeline for changes or upgrades affiliated with already-planned projects – town ventures or some of the many local improvements on the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s list. He said that would involve an analysis of 40 to 45 intersections, about half of the exchanges in the town’s road network.
Trott said that would identify traffic flow trends. He told commissioners that would indicate “where we need to go spend our money to make things better,” instead of limiting analysis to intersections around proposed projects.”
The next step would be defining the legal policy to allow the town to require intersection-improvement contributions from developers while authorizing the town to spend the money at its discretion.
“Payment in lieu” was a phrase discussed, and Town Attorney Angela Beeker said that was a process she wanted to investigate to determine exactly what the town was, and was not, allowed to do.
Commissioner Brian Hines, speaking as the board’s liaison to the Huntersville Ordinance Advisory Board, echoed that sentiment. Hines said it was important to fully understand what type of mitigation – payment in lieu or otherwise – the town could pursue.
“Where is the line?” Hines said, referencing the fuzzy nature of statutes that do not allow “impact fees” to be imposed on developers, but could allow some type of payment in lieu policies. “We don’t want to cross it.”
The board, agreeing a change was needed, agreed to keep the current TIA in place while the specifics of a new approach are explored.