CORNELIUS – Few dispute the need for the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Catawba Avenue widening project. The concern comes from how it will affect those who live nearby.

Officials from Huntersville and Cornelius were invited to a meeting April 10 followed by a public input session to go over plans to widen Catawba Avenue between Sam Furr and Jetton roads. Construction is slated for 2018. 

At least 140 people attended the informal meeting to peruse the project maps and weigh in on potential trouble spots.

“This is still the early stages,” said Jennifer Thompson, communications officer for the NCDOT. “Everything is still being considered. People can still submit comments. It’s important to have the opportunity to weigh in.”

The plan is much the same way widening was handled in 2009 from Jetton Road to Interstate 77, said Brock LaForty of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a design and engineering firm handling the project. The goal is to improve traffic capacity and safety for motorists and transit because traffic, travel time and accidents have increased as the area grows.

The design shows the addition of one lane on each side with a median in the middle, which will limit some access and the number of places people can turn.

“We are still going through comments, but the main impression was a misunderstanding about the median,” said Thompson after the meeting. “Many thought it would go through the whole way, which is 2.7 miles, before they could U-turn. It won’t be. There will be breaks to make left turns or U-turns, but they haven’t been determined.”

The median was implemented in the design in lieu of a middle turn lane because that’s where the accident rate is more likely to increase, LaForty said.

During the local officials meeting, Cornelius Commissioner Woody Washum put in a plug for stoplights at Nantz Road and Harborside Drive. Additional traffic signals were also a big concern for attendees of the open house; however, a traffic study must be completed before that decision is made.

“The traffic impact study will be done to see if there is enough traffic to warrant one,” Thompson said. “If only a couple hundred cars drive on it, it may not.”

The posted speed is planned for 45 miles per hour. A multi-use sidewalk and bike path is also in the design, though it may only go along one side.

LaForty told commissioners other things they are keeping in mind are the pole-mounted utilities, town constructed sidewalks, the three churches along the road, a nearby park, a neighborhood only having access from West Catawba and two structures that could be eligible for historic place designation.

Cornelius Commissioner Jim Duke asked they seriously consider burial of utility lines, but was told it’s not that easy. It’s expensive and may need additional right-of-way, among other concerns.

Some residents attended to see the overall project, while others had specific concerns.

Joanne Bellaria wanted to see what the plan was, but added it was late in coming.

“They seem to be building now and addressing traffic later,” she said, which was reiterated by others in attendance. Several noted a new church and an apartment complex adding to the traffic.

“When it’s rush hour, we don’t go anywhere,” Bellaria said. “But they aren’t telling too much, just that they are going to widen it and put a median. I want to know where the divides are going to be because there is a lot of marina traffic with boats in the summer.”

Several residents from Marina Villas were concerned about the lack of neighborhood entrances and the struggle to turn left out of the neighborhood. Erin Sheeder said she is concerned emergency vehicles won’t be able to come in with the medians.

“I understand why we need it,” said Jacki Smith of the widening. “We have lived in the area 16 years and the traffic has quadrupled.”

Sheeder added, “It should have been done 10 years ago.”

Rhonda Manford-Delk, who lives near Vineyard Point, worries about other potential consequences.

“The noise and air pollution is bad now,” she said. “They need a noise barrier or a high berm. Cars go flying by. When you are sitting on the patio, you can’t have a conversation.”

Comments are still being accepted. Residents can go to www.ncdot.gov for more information or e-mail Elmo Vance Jr. at eevance@ncdot.gov. Another public meeting is scheduled for August.