CORNELIUS – Traffic engineers analyzing prospective road improvements recommended five projects to potentially complete with the first round of bond money.

Members of Parsons Brinckerhoff were tasked with studying nine areas, which had been prioritized and recommended by town staff and commissioners during their retreat. They are not required to be completed or use bond funds.

“The only thing we are talking about tonight is the road part of it because that’s the biggest dollar amount and that’s going to drive a lot of other things and probably be the most complicated,” Town Manager Anthony Roberts told commissioners at the July 21 meeting regarding the $11 million in bonds allotted for road improvements, compared to the $5 million for parks and recreation and $4 million for town center and arts center redevelopment. The town has already committed $1.2 million of the road funds to West Catawba Avenue improvements from Jetton Road to N.C. 73.

Up to $10 million in bond money is slated for issuance January 2015, with another in 2019 to lessen the potential of tax increases. Discussions on road projects will continue during the Aug. 4 board meeting and residents can also speak during public hearings.

Richard Odynski, senior transportation engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff, reviewed their recommendations from the nine submissions, totaling $14.4 million if all were town approved and funded. To narrow the list, items considered were operations, connectivity, safety, benefit-to-cost ratio and estimated costs. They used a 1.5 percent growth rate up to 2035 and graded the areas now and in the future with and without improvements.

The top five recommended projects, totaling $5.4 million, were as follows:

Bailey Road and N.C. 115: Coming in the top spot for benefit-to-cost ratio and second in overall ranking, the intersection improvements offer additional turn lanes and places for traffic. This could see a 40-50 percent reduction in delay. (estimated cost $900,000)

Westmoreland Road and U.S. 21: Coming in second for benefit-to-cost ratio and top for overall ranking, this would also add better turn lanes and traffic storage at the intersection to reduce delay by 45-50 percent. ($1.3 million)

Gem Street extension: This extends the road from Gem Street to Oak Street to offer more connectivity to N.C. 115 and reduce traffic on Catawba Avenue.  ($1.1 million)

Hickory Street extension: This extends the road from Hickory Street into Antiquity to offer more connectivity to N.C. 115 and reduce trips on Old Canal Street. Though the project requires the purchase of two parcels and would require railroad coordination for a traffic signal at N.C. 115, potential outcomes are reducing delay at N.C. 115 and Catawba Avenue by 5-15 percent. (estimated cost $1.25 million, plus cost of traffic signal)

Floral Lane Extension: This adds a connection from Floral Lane to Statesville Road to offer an alternative to Catawba Avenue. The study shows it has the potential to reduce delays at Statesville Road and Catawba Avenue by 25-35 percent. ($900,000)

Not recommended for the first round of bond money were the Smithville Lane extension, Bailey Road realignment, Holiday Lane-Ferry Street connector or additional Catawba Avenue turn lanes.

Odynski said some of these were ruled out because the improvements wouldn’t directly affect the traffic and overall operations unless improvements to other areas were made.

Another drawback noted by commissioners is that while it considered population increases, it didn’t acknowledge new developments.

“You are fixing some problems, but don’t get to the root of the problem,” Odynski said of some of the top-ranked projects. “If you look at some of the results on N.C. 115 at Catawba Avenue in the 2035 build year, it's getting really close to failing. But ultimately, if more development comes, it's going to start failing before that."

He said it's a balancing act and the benefit is the improved connectivity with route options. Odynski also recommended considering partnerships and working with developers to lessen the town costs.