MOORESVILLE – The East-West Connector Road has been a local topic of interest for nearly a decade.
The town has worked with area land and property owners throughout the years to strategize and dream of ways to bring the road to fruition.
Now, with an application in for a prestigious federal grant, it seems that dream has a chance of coming true.
“(The BUILD grant) is one of the largest grants that municipalities compete for,” said Deputy Town Manager Angel Wright-Lanier.
The BUILD – or Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – grant gives the United States Department of Transportation an opportunity “to use a rigorous merit-based process to select projects with exceptional benefits,” according to the USDOT website.
Wright-Lanier said she heard about it for the first time at this year’s National League of Cities conference in Washington, D.C., in February.
And since the program’s application deadline was July 19, the town had to complete its application in less than five months.
“It was an amazingly quick turnaround,” Deputy Town Manager Ryan Rase said.
Rase, who Wright-Lanier called the “technical brains behind the operation,” worked with D.C.-based consulting agency The Ferguson Group to complete the application.
“From a layman's terms perspective,” Rase said, “what this application does is it allows us to connect two highways – Mecklenburg Highway (N.C. 115) with Langtree (Road).”
The town is asking for approximately $19 million for the project, which would construct a three-quarter mile road across about 470 acres of undeveloped property.
“Basically, it’s just opening up land to be developed,” Wright-Lanier said.
Wright-Lanier and Rase said their estimates show the construction of that road could open up between $500 million and $1 billion in economic development.
“That’s where we drop the mic,” Rase said. “That by constructing a three-quarter of a mile four-lane highway, you can open up the possibility of half a (billion) dollars or a billion dollars worth of development.”
10 years in the making
Eric Johnson first remembers hearing about the East-West Connector Road in 2006, when he had been working at The Cove Church on Langtree Road for about two years.
“The Cove felt like we were given a gift of land when we opened (on Langtree Road),” Johnson said. “Our senior pastor thought that it was a gift and that God was up to something.”
The church is one of six property owners in the 400-plus acres of land between Langtree Road and N.C. 115 that has agreed to donate land for a right of way, should the project be awarded the BUILD grant.
“The Cove wants what’s best for the town,” Johnson said. “We just think it’s a great opportunity for the Langtree area.”
The Cove Church would donate between eight and 10 acres to the project and has land that sits right next to the potential road’s path.
“What that does is it gives us more ways to access the property,” Johnson said. “We always struggled with times between services because of our large congregation and times on holidays. … So that’s the immediate benefit for The Cove.”
But Johnson said he’d also be excited about the potential development the road could open up in the area.
“Any new road usually draws commerce,” Johnson said.
Piedmont Land Development President Ron Turner is another landowner in the group of six.
Turner said Piedmont Land Development owns 50 acres between Interstate 77 and the intersection on Langtree Road where the East-West Connector would begin, in front of the Lowe’s Corporate campus.
Like The Cove Church – and the rest of the Langtree area land donors – Piedmont would just be donating land for a right of way easement.
“It’s a unique collaboration, and it’s pretty neat to see six property owners come together and work with the town and figure out the right route for the road to go,” Turner said.
He said he thinks the public-private partnership that has grown between the town and landowners is rare, in part, because areas of land like the 400-plus acres in question are not common.
“Development has occurred all the way north of Exit 36 (on I-77), and there’s 400 acres sitting here right in the middle of all kinds of development that’s still growing corn,” Turner said. “A lot of times you just don’t see that.”
Wright-Lanier and Rase said they think the public-private partnership aspect of their BUILD application is one of the things that makes it a strong application.
“That’s a big deal,” Rase said of land owners donating right-of-way land. “Because that property is very, very valuable. The estimated property value of all the property they’ve donated for this project is $3.1 million.”
The donation of land would only come into effect if the town was awarded the BUILD grant – something it could know as soon as October.
“(Federal staff) gave us the caveat in our last meeting that Angel went up to (in D.C.) that they would like to make decisions prior to the elections in November,” Rase said. “Hence the reason why we’re going back up.”
Town staff has visited D.C. three times this year – once for the National League of Cities conference in February; once in June, just before the grant’s application deadline; and once this week, between Sept. 17-19.
The Mooresville Board of Commissioners meeting was canceled Sept. 17 so town staff could travel to D.C. and make a final pitch to USDOT.
Six municipalities or organizations in North Carolina could receive the grant. Twenty-seven have applied.
But Turner feels Mooresville’s BUILD application is unique.
“We develop and own property all over the Southeast,” Turner said, “and this has just been the only one like this we’ve been involved with.