Alternate Route – There are approximately 10 miles between the Wilkinson Boulevard (US 74) Bridge and the York Road (SC 49) Buster Boyd Bridge. Commuters between these Catawba River bridges must travel north or south to cross the river, contributing to longer travel times and more congestion on local streets and these existing river crossings due to commuters and through-traffic sharing lanes with local traffic. By providing an alternate route, the Project is expected to reduce travel times for a considerable number of people, including both commuters and local traffic.
Congestion – The Catawba Crossings Project would alleviate some of the congestion in southeast Gaston County by providing an alternate, and more direct route to Mecklenburg County for commuters and through-traffic. The alternate route to cross the Catawba River would mean that commuter and through-traffic will not need to share the local roadway network for such long distances. For example, commuters from York County, SC will not have to travel the Belmont Peninsula and through Downtown Belmont to reach a route to / from Mecklenburg County and Charlotte.
Access – The Catawba Crossings Project would improve access to local businesses and regional employment centers. The Project would also increase access to a variety of destinations and services, including but not limited to Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), medical services, educational opportunities, and recreational resources. The Project would likewise improve emergency response access to the area. The Project could also improve the access and availability of delivery services to the area.
Emergency Response & Safety – The Catawba Crossings Project is expected to improve congestion and reduce delay on the area roadway network by dispersing traffic to an alternate route to cross the Catawba River. The projected travel benefits that would be enjoyed by the public would equally benefit emergency responders. As a result, emergency response times would be expected to improve. This is of particular importance considering the proximity of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a major port of entry to the region, located at the east end of the Catawba Crossings Project.
Commuter – In general, public comment favored the Project as a benefit to commuters. Commuters into and out of Charlotte make up a significant portion of daily trips through the project area. These commuters seek the quickest and most direct route that connects their residence to their place of work and various other services.
The Catawba Crossings Project has the potential to significantly reduce travel times for commuters and local traffic and reduce the distance commuters need to travel to access I-485 and other regional transportation facilities. By providing an additional Catawba River crossing, commuters will have an alternate route to access employment centers more quickly in Mecklenburg County.
Bicycles and Pedestrians – The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study is evaluating the inclusion of multimodal components in the design to safely accommodate local, and potential long-distance use of the corridor by cyclists and pedestrians. This evaluation includes a review of and coordination with local multimodal plans for transit, bicycles, pedestrians, trails, and greenways. The Project Team is coordinating with the Carolina Thread Trail as well to explore mutually beneficial arrangements for non-motorized transportation.
In general, public comment supported safe bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. On-street bicycle lanes were not well received with most comments on the subject prioritizing vehicular traffic on the roadway with bicycles accommodated on a separated and/or protected path.
The intent of this Project would be to include connections for all modes of transportation where it makes sense. This feasibility study will make recommendations for the type(s) and location(s) of multimodal facilities, like sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and multiuse paths, along the project corridor. These recommendations will be revisited in the next phase of project design.
Transit – The GCLMPO is coordinating with local transit providers in the development of this study to evaluate the feasibility of utilizing the Catawba Crossings as a transit corridor. Currently, the potential for bus service on the Catawba Crossings is the most feasible option, expanding Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) bus routes into southeast Gaston County via the River District in western Mecklenburg County. It is important to note that the Wilkinson Boulevard (US 74) corridor has been identified by CATS as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) for the LYNX Silver Line to extend light rail into Gaston County. While this feasibility study will not evaluate the inclusion of light rail on the Catawba Crossings Project, the purpose of this study is to not make decisions that preclude transit options in the future.
Long-term transit planning is also in progress for the greater Metrolina Region with Centralina Regional Council’s CONNECT Beyond initiative. CONNECT Beyond will define a bold regional transit vision and plan that provides real mobility solutions and opportunities for residents and visitors across two states and 12 counties.
The Southeast High-Speed Rail Project (SEHSR) is also under development. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently announced the Greenfield Corridor Alternative as the Preferred Alignment for the Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor. The Greenfield Corridor Alternative traverses southern Gaston County. How this corridor may interact with the Catawba Crossings has yet to be seen; but it is on the planning horizon and will be further evaluated moving forward.
Traffic Impact – The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study includes a review of the projected traffic impacts of the Catawba Crossings Project on the surrounding roadway network to identify problems that may arise in the transportation system with and without the project. The future year for this project’s analysis is 2045. The 2045 traffic volumes are based on the travel demand model and account for planned (i.e., funded) transportation projects and approved developments (e.g., residential subdivision).
The study area for the traffic analysis consists of intersections along the primary north-south and east-west corridors in the vicinity of the Catawba River. Potential traffic impacts to S. New Hope Road (NC 279) and South Point Road (NC 273) in Gaston County were mentioned most frequently by commenters.
The GCLMPO Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) (Revised March 2019) identifies S. New Hope Road as a boulevard in need of improvement south of Titman Road. NCDOT State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) project number U-5821 is funded to widen S. New Hope Road between Titman Road and Union New Hope Road.
There are currently no funded projects to widen S. New Hope Road south of Union New Hope Road. However, the GCLMPO recognizes this as a need and has submitted the widening of S. New Hope Road from Union New Hope Road to the SC state line in NCDOT’s current round of prioritization. It is unknown at this time whether or not the project will receive funding.
South Point Road (NC 273) – The Catawba Crossings Project plans to connect to South Point Road in Belmont. The feasibility study will evaluate at a high-level what that connection, or intersection, may look like.
The GCLMPO CTP identifies South Point Road as a boulevard in need of improvement south of Nixon Road. The 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) also identifies the need for widening South Point Road between Armstrong Road and Nixon Road; however, this improvement is not funded.
There are currently no funded projects to widen South Point Road. However, the GCLMPO recognizes this as a need and has submitted the widening of South Point Road from Henry Chapel Road to R.L. Stowe Road in NCDOT’s current round of prioritization. It is unknown at this time whether or not the project will receive funding.
There are several developments planned along South Point Road, including but not limited to the new Belmont Middle School.
South Point Road serves as a primary route for both North Carolina and South Carolina commuters traveling between northern York County/Belmont Peninsula and Mecklenburg County. With another crossing over the Catawba River, a portion of that commuter traffic would be expected to shift onto the Catawba Crossings rather than continue along South Point Road toward Belmont and Wilkinson Boulevard. An additional crossing over the Catawba River would also be expected to change directional traffic patterns along South Point Road as residents who currently travel northbound along South Point Road toward Wilkinson Boulevard and I-85 may instead travel southbound along South Point Road toward the Catawba Crossings. Based on preliminary traffic analysis results, the Catawba Crossings Project demonstrates a benefit to travel times and delay along South Point Road north of the Catawba Crossings corridor as well as a benefit to the regional transportation network.
Environment and Community Character – This Feasibility Study will include a screening of potential impacts to the human and natural environment based on conceptual design plans. The goal of the screening will be to understand whether resources are present or absent and their location in relation to the project corridor. In-depth analyses will be conducted in the next phase of project development in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
While impacts to the human and natural environment are expected for any development project, roadway designers will continuously attempt to avoid negative impacts first, minimize negative impacts second, and finally explore options to mitigate adverse impacts. In the next phase of project development, the quality of resources will be assessed and the potential for direct impacts evaluated. An impact analysis will include the potential for indirect and cumulative impacts, as appropriate.
The project area is characterized as suburban to rural in character and is currently experiencing significant growth – which is projected to continue. The Catawba Crossings Project is being developed with the community context in mind. The proposed boulevard section is compatible with the existing setting, and this feasibility study is evaluating methods and approaches to make the corridor a part of the community, both in Gaston County, as well as Mecklenburg County.
The Project Team recognizes the importance of Lake Wylie and regional recreational resources as character-defining features within the local communities and intends to continue to take these into consideration as this study progresses. The proposed new bridges will be designed to accommodate recreational navigation on Lake Wylie in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
Right of Way & Relocation – The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study will produce conceptual right of way limits for the purpose of generating a planning-level cost estimate. Conceptual design is not completed on field surveyed data. Therefore, the features and attributes of the physical environment, e.g., elevations, are not highly accurate – but are sound enough for planning purposes. Further, conceptual design does not study site-specific details to explore ways to minimize right of way impacts. These steps are taken in subsequent stages of roadway design. Conceptual designs are preliminary and subject to change.
The right of way impacts in the feasibility study phase of project development are purposefully “generous” – that is, designs intentionally show more right of way impacts to achieve a conservative cost estimate. Right of way is very expensive and – if the project is programmed for design and construction (see Schedule) – the NCDOT will minimize right of way needs throughout design. Any right of way claims would be processed according to NC State Law and NCDOT procedure. Further, as federal funding will likely be used to design and construct this project, the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (the Uniform Act) will prevail.
It is also important to recognize that the Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study is evaluating a 1,000-foot corridor for planning purposes. The proposed boulevard would be considerably more narrow, likely 200-foot or less. Further, this study would not preclude the evaluation of alternative alignment corridors in later phases of project development.
Economy – The Catawba Crossings Project is expected to benefit local and regional economic opportunities by better connecting people to jobs and creating the infrastructure to attract new jobs and more efficiently move goods. In general, delay is a constraint on the economy – freight moves more slowly, and employees are delayed in traffic; this lost time equates to unrecoverable costs. Some potential benefits include:
Corridor Location – The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study is evaluating the feasibility and potential benefits associated with a boulevard facility within a locally established corridor. The corridor serving as the baseline for this Feasibility Study is based on the alignment identified as the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practical Alternative” (aka LEDPA) for the Gaston East-West Connector, or Garden Parkway, between S. New Hope Road and I-485. A notable difference between the Catawba Crossings and the previous corridor is the route the Catawba Crossings takes as it passes the planned River District in Mecklenburg County.
Local governments have negotiated the reservation of right of way for the Catawba Crossings as part of some approved development plans in Gaston County. The location of the bridges over the South Fork Catawba River and Catawba River were closely coordinated with resource and regulatory agencies throughout the Garden Parkway Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and were considered permittable at that time. Therefore, the Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study considers these bridge locations the most feasible locations. It should be noted that the previous environmental study evaluated and discarded several other alignment alternatives.
The corridor location as defined in this Feasibility Study does not preclude the evaluation of alignment alternatives in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in later planning and engineering work.
The Catawba Crossings is a section of a larger “Gaston Southern Bypass” which remains in GCLMPO’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). As it relates to a future western extension, the Catawba Crossings should not unduly constrain the future analysis of such an extension.
Local Connections – The Catawba Crossings Project is planned to include full-movement intersections with all major intersecting roads, including S. New Hope Road, South Point Road, I-485 on- and off-ramps, and Steele Creek Road. Other intersections with the Catawba Crossings would be evaluated in the next phase of design.
This feasibility study includes a review and coordination with local multimodal plans for transit, bicycles, pedestrians, trails, and greenways. The intent of this Project will be to include connections for all modes of transportation where appropriate. This feasibility study will make recommendations for the type(s) and location(s) of multimodal facilities, like sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and multiuse paths, along the project corridor.
Intersection Options – This Feasibility Study is intended to identify what types of intersections may work based on the projected traffic volumes in 2045. It is not the intent of this study to determine the final intersection configuration or design, though recommendations may be made. Additional traffic and engineering studies will be conducted in future phases of the project to make such determinations.
Multiple intersection configurations and “treatments” are being considered for the proposed intersections along the Catawba Crossings corridor such as conventional, or standard intersections, and unconventional, or innovative, intersections. Conventional intersections are typically three or four-leg intersections that include stop signs, traffic signals, or roundabouts. Unconventional intersections are typically intended to maximize traffic efficiencies and improve intersection safety beyond conventional intersections. North Carolinians are beginning to see a growing number of unconventional intersection configurations such as:
Each intersection type has benefits and drawbacks as they relate to how much traffic they can safely accommodate and the degree to which they can be improved in the future to accommodate more (or less) traffic.
Interchange connectivity is also being considered along the Catawba Crossings corridor at I-485. Interchanges separate traffic on different roadways (typically an interstate or highway) with a bridge. This allows through-traffic on the major roadway to continue without stopping (or slowing). Interstate exit ramps are one of the most common types of interchanges. Interchange configurations vary greatly depending on the desired degree of separation of movements, which can impact the overall capacity and longevity of the interchange. As such the degree to which they can be improved in the future to meet changing traffic needs is also impacted. Worth noting is that an interchange allows “main line” traffic to proceed unhindered but requires two intersections (opposed to one) on the secondary route.
I-485 Interchange and West Boulevard – This Feasibility Study will continue to evaluate the proposed interchange with I-485. The current concept includes a “split-diamond” interchange configuration (e.g., I-77 at W. Trade Street and W. 5th Street; I-485 at Prosperity Ridge, Prosperity Ridge and Benfield Roads). It is more appropriate to think of this as an expansion of the existing West Boulevard interchange as opposed to a “new” interchange.
The GCLMPO is aware of the plans to extend West Boulevard and is coordinating with the River District, City of Charlotte, and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). The current concept is intended to “split” traffic between West Boulevard and Catawba Crossings, which would serve different types of local and regional trips.
Several transportation projects are currently planned or underway to improve existing intersections and corridors in Gaston and Mecklenburg counties. Table 1 summarizes some of the major transportation projects nearby.
|Project Sponsor||Transportation Project||Description||Schedule (fiscal year)|
|NCDOT||U-6038||Adaptive signal system on US 74 from NC 7 (Catawba Street) to Wesleyan Drive||Under construction|
|B-6051||Replace the current four lane US 74 bridge with a six-lane bridge.||Construction begin 2023|
|U-6143||Improve the NC 7 (E. Catawba Street)/US 74 intersection||Construction begin 2023|
|U-3608||Improve NC 7 (N. Main Street/Belmont-Mt. Holly Road) from US 74 to I-85||Construction begin 2025|
|I-5719||Widen I-85 to eight-lanes from US 321 to NC 273 and reconstruct eight interchanges||Construction begin 2025|
|U-5800||Improve the NC 7/US 74 intersection||Construction begin 2025|
|U-5821||Widen New Hope Road to four lanes from Titman Road to Union-New Hope Road||Construction begin 2026|
|U-5766B||Widen NC 160 to multi-lanes from NC 49 (S. Tryon Road) to I-485||Construction begin 2027|
|I-6016||Improve I-85/I-485 interchange||Construction begin 2027|
|U-5959||Improve the NC 273 (Park Street)/US 74 intersection||Construction unfunded, after 2029|
|U-6150||Convert the South Point Road/Armstrong Road intersection to a roundabout||Construction unfunded, after 2029|
|CATS||LYNX Silver Line||26-mile light rail project from the City of Belmont, through Center City Charlotte and the Town of Matthews, with a potential extension into Union County||Construction unfunded|
|Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT)||CLT Environmental Assessment||Construct fourth parallel runway 1-19 (including end-around taxiways) and terminal and ramp expansion||Construction begin 2028|
|SCDOT||11149-002||Widen SC 274/Pole Branch Road||Under construction|
|P037949||SC 49/SC 274/SC 557 intersection improvements||Construction begin 2021|
|P037954||Widen SC 557 to 3-lanes from SC 55 to Kingsbury Road||Construction begin 2024|
|Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)/ Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)||Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan (PRCIP)||Extension of the Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) corridor from Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA||Construction unfunded|
|Sources: NCDOT 2020-2029 Current STIP (February 2021); CATS; SCDOT Programmed Project Viewer; CLT; GDOT|
The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study traffic analysis includes the funded roadway projects located within the study area with a planned completion date prior to 2045. The Project’s traffic analysis will identify the impacts of the Catawba Crossings corridor on these planned projects and the surrounding transportation network while also identifying improvements like turn lanes and additional through lanes needed at the proposed Catawba Crossings intersections to accommodate projected traffic demands up to 2045.
With another crossing over the Catawba River, travel patterns in the area would be expected to shift, reducing traffic volumes along portions of the corridors in the vicinity of the Catawba River. For example, a portion of the commuter traffic currently traveling along the South Point Road corridor toward Wilkinson Boulevard and I-85 would be expected to shift onto the Catawba Crossings rather than continue along South Point Road through Belmont. Based on preliminary traffic analysis results, the Catawba Crossings Project demonstrates a benefit to the regional transportation network.
This Feasibility Study is an early planning tool to generate cost estimates, identify constraints and opportunities, and determine permitting needs. The Catawba Crossings Feasibility Study is expected to be complete by the end of 2021. Following the approval of this study, the GCLMPO will decide whether or not Catawba Crossings would be submitted to NCDOT through the Prioritization process – the process by which NCDOT evaluates proposed transportation projects across the state and determines which will be included in the 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The next opportunity for Prioritization is expected to begin in 2023.
If Catawba Crossings scores well in the Prioritization process, it would be programmed in the 2025-2034 STIP. Generally, new projects added to the STIP are programmed towards the end of the planning horizon – in this case closer to 2034. In such a scenario, if construction funding were authorized for Catawba Crossings in fiscal year 2034, for example, an approximate three-year construction duration would result in the project opening to traffic in 2037. (Note that this is a hypothetical schedule to illustrate one potential delivery scenario.)
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