MOORESVILLE – The two-lane section of Williamson Road that runs between Interstate 77 and Brawley School Road could soon be upgraded to include sidewalks, more lanes and a taller bridge across Lake Norman.
Town Engineering Services Director Jonathan Young said the project had become a priority for Mooresville in recent years because other road widenings were completed and planned nearby.
“So Williamson Road would have been a bottleneck in that area if it was not widened with those other projects in place,” Young said by email.
The Williamson Road widening effort is still in the early phases – the first public input session was held by the North Carolina Department of Transportation Nov. 29, and the environmental documentation process is ongoing – but the fact it was chosen for potential funding from NCDOT means it’s already jumped through a number of hoops.
How it got selected
NCDOT Division 12 Project Development Engineer Michael Poe said the process for how road projects are funded by NCDOT is “in-depth.”
“There’s a lot of data that goes into it,” Poe said at the Nov. 29 public input session.
For division level projects, of which the Williamson Road widening is one, the process involves two different kinds of data – quantitative and local input – that come together to create a “prioritization score” between 1 and 100.
“For division needs projects, 50 percent of that prioritization score is based on quantitative data,” Poe said.
The quantitative data points include things like the number of cars on the road, accident rates and other safety indicators, and the higher the score it gets, the more urgent the need is for the project.
“The score for this project was 29.21 out of 50,” said NCDOT Division Planning Engineer Anil Panicker of the first half of qualification points.
The other half of the points comes from local input, with 25 percent coming from the NCDOT division and 25 percent coming from the town.
The highest prioritization score a project can get is 100, though Panicker said he’s never seen one reach that level.
“Typically, projects get into the high 80s and stuff, but that’s about it,” Panicker said.
The total prioritization score for this project was 79.
That’s because both the local NCDOT division – which includes six Charlotte-area counties – and the Town of Mooresville put all the points they could toward the project.
Panicker said the NCDOT division is allotted a certain number of points every two years with which they can back projects over six counties. Rather than give lots of projects a few points, they pick 25, including this one, and give each of them the most they can.
The prioritization scoring system is different for statewide level projects, like the I-77 Express Lanes, and regional projects.
But for division level projects, local input is highly valued, in terms of both selecting projects and completing them.
“We engage the towns, municipalities, local governments and other local stakeholders very early in these projects when we’re scoping them,” Poe said. “So we stay fairly engaged with municipalities throughout the life of the project.”
This is one of 1,397 projects identified in the most recent State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which dictates what projects will receive funding from 2018 to 2027.
The STIP allocated $39.4 million for this project, with $8 million for land acquisition, $1 million for utility relocation and $30.4 million for construction.
The section of Williamson Road between I-77 and Brawley School Road is currently two lanes with no median.
The proposed widening would bump it up to four lanes – two going each way – with a 23-foot raised median and 5-foot-wide sidewalks on either side.
“We take into consideration the existing road,” said NCDOT Project Manager Nathan Adima on how the scope of the project is determined. “We take into consideration the traffic for cars for that project for that area. … That gives us an idea of the typical section of the project.”
In addition to the standard road being widened, the bridge over I-77 would be widened, and the bridge over Lake Norman would be rebuilt to be wider and taller.
“We’re raising it up to 12 feet navigational clearance to meet the regulations … for a bridge that is being built newly,” Adima said. “If you are retrofitting an existing bridge, you can keep the existing clearance. But this bridge will be a new bridge, so we have to raise the clearance to 12 feet.”
That’s something that’s exciting to Mooresville residents Richard and Barbara Todd, who own cruiser boats.
“Sometimes I can get under that bridge,” Richard said of the existing Williamson Road bridge. “Sometimes I can’t.”
The Todds live off Williamson Road on Catalina Drive and came to the Nov. 29 public input meeting to learn more about the project.
“This whole operation here was concerning as to how we were going to get in and out,” Richard said of the project construction. “And I understand what they’re doing, and I really don’t have any issues with it. Everything seems to be fine.”
“It just going to be a mess to do it,” Barbara said.
But, once construction is completed – which NCDOT estimates will be in fall 2024 – Richard said the project will likely be worth the wait.
“It definitely needs to be widened,” Richard said.
NCDOT representatives hope to be able to start construction in fall 2021.