How will removal of left turns impact West Catawba intersection?


Future roundabouts on Torrence Chapel Road (at right) and Liverpool Parkway (left) could also be associated with a lack of left-turn lanes onto West Catawba Avenue. /Courtesy NCDOT

CORNELIUS – Turn lanes could eventually be eliminated at Torrence Chapel Road and West Catawba Avenue, but Cornelius leaders want citizen input before making a decision.

As part of the already planned construction project related to the intersection just west of Interstate 77, there will be three roundabouts to aid traffic flow. But at the March 21 town board meeting, Deputy Town Manager Wayne Herron presented studies by the N.C. Department of Transportation that demonstrated decreased wait times without the left turns when traveling through the corridor.

The state’s “preferred alternatives” are as follows:

– Instead of turning left from Torrence Chapel onto eastbound West Catawba, drivers would go straight through to a roundabout on Liverpool in front of the post office, coming back north to make a right on West Catawba. 

– Instead of turning left from Liverpool onto westbound West Catawba, drivers would go straight through onto Torrence Chapel and turn around via a roundabout in front of the entrance to Lake Norman Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, then a right onto West Catawba.

The costs to remove the left turns would be the town’s responsibility. At this time, NCDOT estimates it would cost approximately $10,000 to remove the left turns associated with the project, which has acquired right of way and has construction projected for 2023-24. If the town chooses to wait to remove them, it still bears the costs, but it may be seven to 10 years in the future.

For the intersection as a whole, eliminating left turns would decrease current morning drive times from 26 seconds to 21 seconds, and p.m. drive times from 57 seconds to 30 seconds. Maintaining the turns would increase in the a.m. to 28 seconds, but decrease in the p.m. at a lower rate than the alternative, 40.6 seconds. 

Projecting out to 2040, the numbers are especially stark. The lack of left turns would decrease a trip from Torrence Chapel to I-77 from 11 minutes to 4.

Town Manager Andrew Grant suggested the topic go to the newly formed Neighborhood Advisory Group.

“It impacts everybody in the community,” he said.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy predicted that many residents, including himself, won’t agree to the changes, however.

“I wouldn’t even consider this request,” he said. “I see the models, I don’t think you’re going to convince the public. People aren’t going to buy it.”

Meanwhile, Mike Miltich, former commissioner and Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization chairman, suggested eliminating only the “dominant” left turns.

“This would also eliminate (Exit 28) backups that occur routinely caused by insufficient stacking from traffic turning left onto Liverpool from westbound Catawba,” he said.

Mayor Woody Washam noted the progress to create an Exit 27 at Westmoreland Road could impact the traffic further and the decision to keep the turn lanes. In May 2017, the town negotiated with NCDOT and entered into an agreement to maintain left turns at the intersection at hand at the completion of the roundabout construction. 

“​​I remember the ground swell with the issue, it was as strong as we’ve seen with anything,” Washam said. “With the fact that we got an agreement in place, we need to do some thinking here. We need time to let people react. And they will, I’m confident.”

Push for CRTPO change

While approving its official priorities for the 2022 State Legislative Agenda, commissioners wanted to emphasize the town’s stance on the CRTPO voting structure.

Currently, the transportation committee gives significantly more weight to votes from Charlotte representatives than the other towns in the three-county region of Iredell, Mecklenburg and Union. 

The wording changed sternly from “Consider reopening study of MPO/RPO voting…” to “Reopen a study…” that in 2020 the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations began.

Washam noted the town could get local N.C. Rep. John Bradford involved, and though it’s a pipe dream, to create a Lake Norman MPO.

“It will take the state to react to this,” he said. “That’s where the complicator comes into play. We need more weight up there, we need more substance by not having a future directed by Charlotte solely.”

Elsewhere in the document, the town amended its community redevelopment line to request $3 million to fund specifically the proposed Smithville revitalization project.

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