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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : news : e-news July 23, 2019

2/2/2019 8:31:00 AM
About That Traffic
Northbound traffic on NC16-Business backs up regularly.
Northbound traffic on NC16-Business
backs up regularly.

ELBA president Greg Smith talks with Commissioners Rich Permenter and Bud Cesena following Monday night's meeting.  
ELBA president Greg Smith talks
with Commissioners Rich
Permenter and Bud Cesena
following Monday night's meeting.

+ view more photos
Traffic waiting to make a left turn
onto southbound NC16 (bypass)
at St. James Church Road...

Getting onto NC16 southbound at
Optimist Club Road is even worse. 
Smith said the problem includes the
short distance to get into the left turn
lane and the fact that most
northbound traffic is speeding.

Greg Smith: "now people from Webbs
Road are driving north 1.5 miles to take
St. James to get on NC16 (bypass) south
because GPS tells them that it will
take less time than dealing with the
traffic on 16-Business..."

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

Regular readers of the Lincoln Herald will recall that back in September, County Commissioner Rich Permenter and then-Commissioner Martin Oakes called for a special meeting of the Commissioners to talk about road projects.

The two had their disagreements about what was most needed (and still is) in the East Lincoln area, but they agreed on one thing: the traffic problem is very bad and getting worse. Oakes said his #1 priority project is the intersection of the NC16 Bypass and Optimist Club Road. Permenter said his #1 project is the widening of NC16-Business from Fairfield Forest Road (Westport) to Unity Church Road. County Planning Director Andrew Bryant said at that meeting that the Dept. of Transportation has approved an overpass of Optimist Club Road over NC16-Bypass, a $23 million project. The rights of way have mostly been cleared already and contracts could be let next year, he said, but even so, the project wouldn't be completed until 2023.

Permenter proposed that the County allocate more money for road projects to help move them up the DOT's scheduled project list. County Manager Kelly Atkins said the County currently has $635,000 that has been set aside for that purpose--plus an additional $200,000 contributed by developers who had their developments in the East Lincoln area approved, but those contributions are earmarked for certain projects. Permenter insisted that such a small amount would likely have little impact and proposed that the County spend several million dollars from its large fund balance to get the projects moved up on the list.

Commissioner Carrol Mitchem said the problem is there's no guarantee that contributing that money to the DOT would accomplish getting the projects done sooner. "I'd want something in writing," he said. Mitchem also countered Permenter's mention of a $5 million contribution to the road projects saying, "if we're going to spend five million dollars, I'd rather see it spent on expanding the water system."

Mitchem asked, "has any other county put money into road projects by the state?" Bryant said some municipalities had put money into studies to help move projects along. "But what about counties?" Mitchem said. "Has any other county done this?" Bryant said he didn't know of one.

Mitchem called the September special session "a wasted hour."

Oakes was one of a group that had proposed incorporating Denver, an idea that got mostly negative comments from the majority in the community. Permenter called the incorporation proposal "an ill-conceived plan."

Then candidate, now Commissioner, Bud Cesena was also negative on the incorporation proposal.

Former County Commissioner Tom Anderson organized a group to oppose incorporation; he said, "you've got a petition for it; I've got one against it!" 

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The pro-incorporation group: Oakes, Bob Silver, Matt Smith, Matt Gustis, and Nic Haag the committee that came up with the says it's up to the County to take up the issue since the incorporation proposal is apparently dead. At the meeting of the Commissioners Monday night (Jan. 28th), East Lincoln Betterment (ELBA) president Greg Smith addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting: 

"East Lincoln traffic concerns have been highlighted for years to the Commissioners. As an example of the problem, on January 18th at 3:40 pm, traffic was backed-up from Unity Church Road past Food Lion (Fairfield Forest Road)--over a mile and a half. 

"Rapid development has continued with little mitigation for traffic impact. Multiple new major developments have already cleared land and are ready to add traffic to what is already more than the roads can handle. 

"Low volume traffic designs have resulted in predicted safety issues: for example, the Optimist Club Road U-turn--as predicted--has become a major safety issue. Distorted traffic patterns have formed due to a lack of options: Webbs Road communities are traveling north 1.5 miles to St. James Road to avoid delays on Business 16. "We understand that a special fund has been established and Commissioners have ordered a planning traffic study, but is that going to make any difference in getting the projects that have long been talked about completed? 

"Our request is that Commissioners develop a strategy supported by a real action plan to address DOT priorities. For example: consider using funds from the County's share of the increasing sales tax revenue as matching funds that could be committed to DOT projects in the East Lincoln area." 

Some have expressed concern that other area projects might get a quicker solution than those in the East Lincoln area. Lincoln County is a member of the GCLMPO (Gaston, Cleveland, Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization).

The Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) identifies the transportation projects that GCLMPO and NCDOT plan to undertake over the next ten years. The most recent version covers the period 2020 - 2029. It includes 13 new highway projects in Division 12, which includes Gaston, Cleveland, Lincoln, Alexander, Catawba and Iredell counties. Among the most recent updates are two new very costly projects in Gaston and Cleveland counties: the widening of Interstate 85 from the South Carolina state line to US74 near Kings Mountain, and the widening of US74 between Cramerton and Belmont. Widening of I-85 between Belmont and Gastonia had already been on the list. 

Some East Lincoln residents are concerned that because traffic volume on those roads is much larger than on the ones in East Lincoln, they'll get completed long before the projects already approved for East Lincoln are done. As it stands now, the new I-85 project isn't planned until 2028, but the construction on US74 is listed for 2022 and the Gastonia-Belmont widening of I-85 to eight lanes is listed to begin in 2023. 

We were told that the DOT will hold an in-house public comment session in February or March at the Division 12 office in Shelby, and that residents will also be able to submit comments online.

While housing developments have helped cause many of the traffic problems, business development also adds to the traffic tie-ups.  Among items on Monday night's (Feb. 4th) Commissioners/Planning Board agenda is a request related to developing a 10.9 acre parcel on the west side of NC16-business at Webbs Road.

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