HUNTERSVILLE – Some intersection adjustments may still be included in the highway design process, but the N.C. Department of Transportation has decided that a wider and more traffic-flow focused N.C. 73 between Huntersville and Denver will remain aligned with its current corridor.
After an extended alternative evaluation process and multiple public meetings, the NCDOT has ruled out the idea of a re-routed highway segment in the Beatties Ford Road/Hicks Crossroads/Blythe Landing area in western Huntersville. Instead, lanes will be added along the current highway corridor with an emphasized effort to limit the impact on property owners and the environment.
The long-discussed project is the western half of an improvement project that will ultimately create a wider N.C. 73 from N.C. 16 in Denver to Concord. The 8.5-mile western section is more advanced on the NCDOT calendar, with final road design work beginning this summer, two years of right-of-way acquisition scheduled to begin in 2020 and a construction start date in 2023.
The $177 million state project is actually divided into two pieces – N.C. 16 to the West Catawba Avenue intersection, and West Catawba Avenue to Northcross Drive, just west of Interstate 77 at Exit 25. The improvements will create a four-lane highway between N.C. 115 to West Catawba and a six-lane highway segment (where four lanes currently exist) between the W. Catawba intersection and Northcross.
In an online announcement about the final route decision, the NCDOT stated: “The preferred alternative will minimize impacts to the greatest extent possible. It combines widening on both sides of the roadway and to one side of the road and requires less right-of-way. It will also cost less to build than the other alternatives considered.”
The statement also says the interagency resource team – a group that included NCDOT officials and representatives of the towns and counties the highway serves – evaluated the impacts of various potential route adjustments before settling on the existing corridor, which is described in the announcement as the LEDPA, one of the latest additions to the vast collection of state and federal road building acronyms, with this one standing for “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.”
Wilson Stroud, project engineer with NCDOT’s western regional office, reiterated that the plan will use the existing corridor, with efforts made to limit impacts to people and property.
“The approach will be to keep NC. 73 in its current track and design the road to have the least impact possible,” Stroud said. “In places north and south of the existing right-of-way, we will require the acquisition of some additional property, but it will be done to have the best fit we can.”
Bill Cox, Huntersville’s veteran transportation planner, said he understood evaluating the alternative route that would have created a southern arc in N.C. 73’s route in the Beatties Ford area – shifting the highway farther away from the Lake Norman shoreline – but he said the final decision was not a surprise.
“I think it was inevitable,” Coxe said. “As you go through an environmental study like this ... regulations pretty much require you to have as little environmental impact as possible.
“There were various issues to evaluate, including the fate of the old roadway if a new route is selected. Are you going to remove the old roadway? Probably not. And if not, there’s added environmental impact to the project.”
The current plan
The widened highway, as designed, will limit left turns at most intersections while implementing U-turn lanes not far from intersections to allow motorists to reverse course.
Some of the most significant proposed adjustments include eliminating right turns at the Beatties Ford Road intersection (eastbound traffic will use Brown Mill Road to access N.C. 73) and creating two left-turn lanes at the intersection.
At Birkdale Commons Parkway, N.C. 73 traffic will be allowed to turn left, but left turns will not be allowed by motorists accessing N.C. 73. Signalized U-turn lanes will be located east and west of the intersection.