Improvements to Highway 74 in Union County that cost less and focus benefits on local drivers are feasible and merit further study according to an engineering firm report released today by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The firm also found significant concerns with certain North Carolina Department of Transportation studies for the proposed $800 million Monroe Bypass.
The report, A Closer Look at US 74: Challenges and Opportunities, was produced by the engineering firm O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc. at the request of the law center. The study recommends that local communities and taxpayers be provided with additional information about alternatives to the Monroe Bypass before NCDOT commits to construct the costly project.
The law center asked the engineering firm to look at the US 74 corridor and determine if alternatives to the Bypass would be feasible. In performing this analysis the firm raised concerns and uncovered significant holes in the Department of Transportation’s studies. For example, the department failed to examine who exactly is using the US 74 corridor, making it impossible to tell who would use the proposed bypass in the future. The department also failed to take a hard look at the alternative of fixing up the US 74 corridor to help out local drivers.
“Anyone in Union County can tell you that traffic congestion on US 74 is a big problem, and yet NCDOT’s own studies have shown that building the bypass will do little to alleviate that congestion” said Kym Hunter, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The state has made clear that the purpose of the bypass is to create a link between Charlotte and the coast ― not to benefit Union County. In fact, the state has been consistent in its position that Union County will see little benefit from the bypass, and that traffic congestion on US 74 will not improve.”
To address NCDOT’s failure, the new report examines a suite of low cost, low impact solutions that would improve traffic flow on US 74 for local drivers. For example, the expansion of turn-lanes, improved coordination of stop lights and the implementation of new “superstreets,” which eliminate left turns and significantly reduce traffic delays while also improving people’s safety.
This summer, the towns of Hemby Bridge and Weddington in Union County both passed resolutions urging the state to consider alternatives to N.C. Department of Transportation’s costly bypass. Other local leaders have been asking similar questions about alternative solutions that focus on improving local roads and wondering if the Bypass is more of a burden than a boon to their local constituents.