HUNTERSVILLE – Coinciding with the automobile’s emerging and expanding role in society, first came the roads, then the highways.

And now Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe – who has had a driver’s seat view of regional transit planning and improvements for nearly four decades – expects people-powered means of mobility to assume a leading role in future projects, starting with current plans to improve U.S. 21 and N.C. 73 in north Mecklenburg.

At the town board’s Dec. 3 meeting, Coxe cited the state’s active involvement in road building in 1930 and the opening of Interstate 77 in 1975 as notable historic milestones while saying the next “45-year cycle” in transportation planning will include an emphasis on serving pedestrians and cyclists.

Coxe’s presentation focused on planned North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) projects to widen U.S. 21 and N.C. 73. Multi-modal facilities for methods of transit other than motorized vehicles are part of those plans, and selecting the system of paths and connections suitable for each project is a vital part of the preliminary planning. Town input is included in the process – and Huntersville will pay a percentage of the costs for the paths. His update showed commissioners the types of walking and cycling paths and greenway connections the town hopes are part of the pending road projects.

Changes on U.S. 21 and N.C. 73 will involve implementation of divided-highway “superstreet” designs that limit interchanges and restrict movements at intersections. The approach enhances motor vehicle traffic flow, but restrictions on movements also reduce the opportunities for pedestrian and cyclist crossings.

As a result, multi-use paths (MUPs) are proposed on each side of both highways.

“Crossings are the issue,” Coxe responded when Commissioner Mark Gibbons expressed concerns about costs associated with dual paths.

On the portion of U.S. 21 through Huntersville, Coxe said the town is requesting 10-foot-wide MUPS. But on N.C. 73, because of right of way considerations, anticipated greenway links and a culmination of other factors, Coxe said a hodgepodge of paths are proposed.

Along N.C. 73 between the Catawba River (county line) and the Beatties Ford Road intersection, 12-foot-wide MUPS are anticipated on both sides. Between Beatties Ford Road and the N.C. 73 exchange with West Catawba Avenue, the MUP on the lakeside of the highway will be reduced to 10 feet and a 6-foot wide sidewalk will be on the inland side.

Dual MUPs are anticipated between Catawba Avenue and Northcross Drive (where the highway widening project stops and a separate NCDOT bridge project starts). And pedestrian and cycling routes across I-77 will involve a mix of sidewalks on the outside of new bridge travel lanes and MUPs on planned connector roads that will cross the interstate north and south of the existing bridge, which Coxe described as “perhaps the least friendliest place we have, other than I-77, for cyclists and pedestrians.”

Total costs associated with the multi-modal aspects of the projects – including a $1 million MUP tunnel under N.C. 73 Coxe said had been discussed – are unknown. He added the anticipated future adoption of a new NCDOT “Complete Streets” program could shift more of the financial burden to the state.

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