MOORESVILLE – Imagine relaxing on the deck of a gleaming, eight-bedroom charter boat as moonlight illuminates the calm waters of Lake Norman.
Stan Thompson, a member of the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce’s transportation infrastructure and air quality committee, is slowly pushing that vision toward reality.
By starting a grassroots movement, “One Lake, One Day,” he hopes that once the N.C. 150 bridge that bisects the lake into two unequal parts is widened by the N.C. Department of Transportation, it’s also made taller.
He gave a presentation to the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization on Aug. 23 and plans to speak to the Catawba Town Council about the issue this month.
The crux of his effort lies in a taller, gently curving bridge equaling more money for the region. He figures connecting the 400 miles of shoreline in the lake’s southern portion to the 120 miles of shoreline in its northern segment would allow for luxury, 100-mile long lake cruises. These voyages, he said, could hypothetically begin near Exit 33, sail down to Cowans Ford Dam and back up to the Interstate 40 bridge.
“Instead of just being a destination, the lake would also be a credible means of transportation if you could go far enough for that to be meaningful,” Thompson said. “Now, to somebody who lives here, the idea of having a state room out on the lake sounds absurd, but if you were from Albuquerque or L.A. or Toronto, it might be cool.”
As a former strategic planner and environmental and transportation futurist for AT&T in Atlanta, Thompson said long-range thinking is something that comes naturally to him. His love of the lake stems from his father’s purchase of a lake lot on the Brawley peninsula in the 1960s.
“My family’s been here ever since they filled up the lake,” he said. “I remember swimming out there when I was in my late teens.”
Thompson envisions a time when The Catawba Queen and The Lady of the Lake yachts will sail under the bridge peacefully, regional tourism expands and tax revenues increase from higher property tax valuations.
Thompson estimates that Lake Norman’s 520 miles of shoreline – divided up into lots measuring 200 feet in length – would equal 13,728 lots. Making adjustments for commercial and municipal property, he figures that a conservative property value average of the remaining 10,000 residential lots is $250,000 apiece, for a total of $2.5 billion.
His presentation to MUMPO stated that if opening the lake by raising the bridge height increased property tax values by only 1 percent, then Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln and Catawba counties would still see a collective $25 million added to their coffers.
Steve Rackley, an NCDOT bridge manager for the district, said the bridge typically leaves about 10 to 12 feet of clearance for boats, but that can be cut to eight feet after intense rainstorms. Roughly 15,000 cars pass over it each day, and $3.6 million worth of steel girder maintenance and road resurfacing work is scheduled to begin in the next few months to add 10 years of life to the bridge, Rackley said.
NCDOT planning engineer David Keilson said the state’s transportation improvement program calls for widening N.C. 150 to two lanes in each direction from the N.C. 16 bypass to Interstate 77.
The project from Harvel Road in Catawba County eastward to the road’s intersection with Morrison Plantation Parkway was supposed to begin construction in 2019.
“Under the state’s new strategic transportation investments, the project will have to be scored against other projects, and the date could move in either direction,” he said.
The complete widening project, which would include stretching the bridge to four lanes, is estimated to cost about $123 million.
Neil Burke, transportation planner for the Town of Mooresville, said the NCDOT plans to hold an as-of-yet unspecified public workshop in October to discuss the environmental impact and concept design work that will go hand-in-hand with widening the bridge.
Thompson is trying to gather community support to tack the issue of heightening the bridge onto the conversation about widening it.
“If I don’t do this, it won’t be done,” Thompson said. “Nobody else had the background to see it, and I wouldn’t have seen it if I’d have had a different job.”