Leaders weigh solutions for Gilead Road/U.S. 21 traffic

HUNTERSVILLE – Change is likely coming to the Gilead Road/U.S. 21 intersection in the next three years.

What kind of change, however, is still up for debate.

Members of the town’s planning, public works and transportation staff discussed two options March 18 that would alleviate traffic congestion at what is one of the area’s biggest intersections.

The first option, according to Public Works Director Max Buchanan, would include adding turn lanes, left turns and islands limiting left turns into certain spots around the intersection. It would also involve going from two lanes to six, but Transportation Director Bill Coxe cautioned that the first option would be tough for pedestrians to cross.

The second option, a “superstreet” similar to what is done in Chapel Hill and Wilmington, would remove left turns entirely from the intersection. Drivers would go down the road a short distance and make a U-turn to get to their destination.

“The biggest benefit of that is that it eliminates phases of a traffic signal,” Buchanan said. “An eight-phase signal would become a two-phase signal. It would be green for those on Gilead and red for those on U.S. 21, or vice versa. That will cut down on the average wait time for people at the intersection.”

The superstreet idea would also be a bit easier for pedestrians looking to cross the road, because the medians in place in each direction give them more space to wait.

Residents going to shopping centers near the intersection would have different methods of entering them, but Coxe said the intersection project is also designed to improve accessibility to local businesses.

“This doesn’t just affect volume and capacity,” he said. “It affects safety, too.”

How would Huntersville pay for such improvements?

The town board approved $17.8 million in bonds to improve road and street infrastructure in the 2012 election. That money is slated to go to multiple projects, however.

The Gilead/U.S. 21 intersection project, Coxe and Buchanan estimate, could cost $9 million, regardless of choosing the first or second option. Roughly $3.6 million will come from federal money if the town pays for a sizable portion of the project. Coxe said $3 million has been approved to come from the town’s budget.

Finding the rest of the money needed to fund such a project is a process town leaders are still working on, Coxe said.

It’s also possible that there could be a smaller, more-affordable solution to be used. Buchanan said any solution would have to be voted on and approved by the town board by late April or early May.

Construction, if an option is approved by then, would begin by fall 2015. The chosen project would then go through the engineering phase and finish around spring 2017.

For an intersection that town staff expects by 2017 to have as many as 38,000 cars passing through it daily, any change could be good change.

The project’s boundaries are Commerce Centre Drive to the east, just before the Interstate 77 bridge to the west, just north of Shiv Drive to the north and near Huntersville Ford to the south.

 

Want to learn more? The town will host a free workshop open to the public 4:30-7:30 p.m. April 10 at town hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road, to discuss the project. Residents can also track its progress by visiting www.us21gileadroadproject.org.