Troutman to examine alternatives to southwest bypass at October charrette
PHOTO: Residents participated in a mapping input session at the June Southwest Bypass public meeting.
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Troutman officials are in the process of planning a two-day work session in October to discuss alternatives to the southwest bypass plan currently on the books. The public will have another opportunity to give their input during this charrette event, which will be much like the one the town hosted through the Strategic Master Plan process.
At the charrette, Town Planner George Berger said staff, the local steering committee and the Stantec consulting team will do intensive work to present to the public at the session’s end. The public can drop in to observe and give feedback through the process.
Seventy-five people packed the new Career and Technology meeting room in June to voice their opposition to a southwest bypass around Troutman, which was first proposed in 1985. At a July meeting to discuss this public input, the consensus was that town residents want to address the current situation and consider the bypass later if it is needed.
Berger noted that the idea was "to fix and enhance Main Street, not just (talk) about widening it. There is a distinction there.” He also stressed the importance of stressing the value of connecting existing streets to improve traffic issues.
Perth Road currently handles 8,000 vehicles per day, a number expected to rise to 15,000 to 20,000 by 2045. Murdock Road is expected rise from its current 7,500 to 15,000. The Main Street to the I-77 corridor number may reach up to 25,000.
With this expected increase in traffic volume, the town is reviewing transportation alternatives to understand what improvements can be made to remediate the situation in lieu of a bypass.
The town contracted with Stantec, using funds from a Charlotte Regional Planning Transportation Organization (CRPTO) grant, to study alternatives to the proposed Southwest bypass to make the best decisions for the community.
Stantec’s Mike Rutkowski led the June public input meeting, saying that the plan was to study the need for this bypass as well as other possible alternatives.
“The bypass may no longer be a viable option. It may be that other street improvements are the better option now,” he said.
Rutkowski said that he hoped the study would help decide “what problem are we trying to solve.” He pointed out that the needs of the town in 1985 are much different than its needs in 2019 and that moving traffic away from downtown may hurt Main Street businesses.
HIGHWAY 21/MAIN STREET WIDENING
A planned N.C. Department of Transportation project will widen Highway 21/Main Street, which currently carries 17,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day on a road designed for 14,000. However, the improvements will not solve all of Troutman’s problems either, Rutowski noted. “It may actually create new problems.”
The widening project only addresses the area from Kat’s Patch to the southern end of Eastway Drive and does not address dangerous intersections and congestion from that area down to the I-77 Exit 42 area.
Rutkowski reminded the crowd that the priority on Main Street should be people, not traffic. He quoted planning expert Fred Kent, who said, “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”
He said that the study's goals included providing relief to the entire US 21/Main Street corridor. The study would also examine bypass alternatives such as improving existing road connectivity, creating collector streets, and improving the traditional “farm to market” roads, along with the impacts of the Main Street widening.
“Collector streets” have more frequent and greater access flexibility to homes and businesses, have lower posted speeds (usually 25 to 35 mph), and run shorter distances. Collectors connect with local streets and other arterial roads that deliver traffic to freeways or expressways at the highest level of service possible.
The study will also look at how to best integrate street, intersection, and connectivity improvements with the NCDOT R-2522 project (Highway 21/Main Street widening).
Another study goal is to find a balance between meeting local needs and desires with the needs of commuter traffic flowing through the area.
“The priority has to be people because with no people, there is no business,” said Rutkowski. “Great main streets and downtowns are places where people come together.”
Solving Troutman’s traffic and congestion problems will create a better place for everyone to relax, shop, eat, and enjoy the area’s arts, culture, and history.
Rutlowski added that Main Street, as it has evolved through the decades, would never actually have been designed to be the way it is today.
Since Iredell County is projected to grow by an additional 100,000 residents between now and 2045 and just over 86 percent drive alone to work, traffic problems must be addressed for now and the future.
The study kicked off on March 28, with Stantec meeting several times with an advisory committee to get its input. After collecting residents’ opinions at the June symposium as well as input through the online questionnaire and interactive map (plantroutman.com), the project planning team will review previous planning efforts, current conditions, and residents’ input and needs to develop transportation alternatives.
At the charrette, these alternatives will be evaluated for potential impacts on natural resources, social and other relevant effects. At the charrette’s conclusion, consultants will present the preferred alternative emerging from the process, with delivery to the council in October and possible adoption in November.
At the June meeting, Rutkowski gave attendees electronic clickers to collect the residents’ responses to a series of questions to help Stantec select solutions that meet their needs. Two-thirds gave a thumbs down to a bypass around Troutman, instead favoring widening and other improvements on Main Street/Highway 21.
Some 73 percent said that the trend most affecting Troutman’s transportation future was residential growth and industrial development. Interestingly, over one-half said that congestion rarely or never affected their commute to work.
One-third felt the town’s most pressing transportation issue was a problem with intersection design and lack of signals, followed by one-quarter who were critical of the failure of infrastructure to align with growth. Fourteen percent cited poor road connectivity, with 10 percent each naming the problems with driving safety and speeders and the cut-thru and commuter traffic as their biggest headaches.
Nearly two-thirds of attendees use their cars when traveling in Troutman, with just over a quarter use walking trails, and 8 percent riding bike. Only 2 percent utilized van or car pools.
Interestingly, the meeting’s respondents split on Highway 21 safety, with 39 percent deeming the road as somewhat or very safe and 41 percent as somewhat or very unsafe. Twenty percent were neutral on that question.
About half of attendees felt the biggest safety problem on Highway 21 was speeding vehicles and congestion, followed by large vehicles trucks (18 percent) and pedestrian crossings and other concerns each garnering 11 percent each.
Almost two-thirds favored intersection treatments to improve traffic flow and safety, with one-quarter favoring installation of roundabouts. Fifty-seven percent cited large freight trucks as a problem to some degree in the traffic woes.
When asked to choose two methods to improve the Highway 21 corridor, 39 percent chose widening it to a four-lane divided highway, followed by a quarter who chose improved street connectivity in the town and its outskirts to relieve pressure on Highway 21. Twenty percent chose intersection improvements, with 12 percent favoring streetscape and beautification measures.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To keep up to date with the latest information on the Stantec Bypass Alternatives Study, visit https://www.plantroutman.com. Residents can still give their input by completing the questionnaire survey and interactive map survey through this website.