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FUNDING PRIORITIES

by Jeff Sykes

Regional transportation committee approves litany of projects

jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

Ahandful of major transportation projects in Greensboro are moving forward following approval by an intergovernmental committee made up of Guilford County elected officials.

The major news out of the meeting last week of the Transportation Advisory Committee was that the group approved funding of the last two sections of the Greensboro Urban Loop. Other projects discussed included shifting federal money away from stalled projects, and identifying roadway improvements that could alleviate congestion.

The committee, made up of representatives from Greensboro, Guilford County, area towns and representatives of the NC Department of Transportation, signs off on state transportation funding and makes decisions regarding local road projects by assigning them certain priority levels.

The two big ticket items were already approved at the state level. NCDOT asked the committee to add a taxiway bridge project at Piedmont Triad International Airport to its current transportation improvement program. The future I-73 will run across a northern section of airport property. Future businesses in the area of Hollandsworth and Caindale drives could use the taxiway to access the airport, according to documents presented to the committee. The $15.5 million project would be funded mostly by the airport authority.

A smaller project in the area would replace a structurally deficient bridge on Ballinger Road that runs across a tributary of Horse Pen Creek.

The committee also signed off on state funding for the last two sections of the Greensboro Urban Loop. The last leg of the western loop will run from Battleground Avenue to Lawndale Drive. The project is funded for construction in 2016 at a cost of $54.5 million. The second funded portion is part of the eastern loop and runs from Lawndale Drive to US 29. Project documents state that it is funded for right of way acquisitions in 2016 and construction in 2019. That project has a price tag of $162 million.

NCDOT Division Engineer Mike Mills said in a previous interview that the Battleground to Lawndale section of the western loop will be let to construction in late 2015. Crews are currently working on the northwest loop, from Bryan Boulevard to Battleground Avenue. A portion of the eastern loop from Wendover Avenue to US 29 has just begun, with Flatiron Construction, the same company that completed a project at PTI recently, winning that contract.

Mills said the entire urban loop project could be completed in 2021.

The state’s new prioritization process for funding local road projects benefitted the Greensboro Urban Loop in the eyes of state transportation planners. The current process, known as Prioritization 2.0, was begun under former Gov. Bev Perdue and continued under Gov. Pat McCrory. The process gives weight to projects in a variety of contexts, ultimately judged against the standards of improving mobility and modernization of facilities.

According to Adam Fischer, transportation director for the city of Greensboro, the remaining portions of the urban loop project fared very well.

“It analyzes what are the specific benefits of the project,” Fischer said. “It’s weighted heavily on how much traffic congestion a roadway project will alleviate.”

The state uses quantitative data based on mobility and modernization to assign value to a project. The local transportation committee, under the aegis of the Municipal Planning Organization, then ranks projects in conjunction with staff from the NCDOT division.

Beyond the major loop projects, the advisory committee ranked a handful of road projects that could make getting around Greensboro a bit easier. The committee gave the most weight to a project in the Oak Ridge area, assigning a total score of 59 to the idea of adding crosswalks and additional intersection improvements where NC 150 and 68 come together.

In Greensboro, the highest score went to intersection improvements at Battleground Avenue and Westridge Road. Fischer said that $3.5 million project would add dual left turn lanes and a right turn lane to accommodate the heavy volume of traffic. That project scored a 56.8 from the committee.

Fischer said the other priority project in Greensboro is a $15.8 million widening project in the same area of Battleground Avenue. The project would widen that section of the road between Westridge Road and Cotswald Avenue.

Other high scoring projects included desperately needed improvements to the US 29/Business 85 interchange known as Death Valley, replacing the interchange of US 29 and Reedy Fork Parkway, widening NC 68 from Market Street to Pleasant Ridge and improving the interchange of US 29 and NC 150.

The major point of discussion among the committee was how to reallocate about $5 million in federal transportation dollars currently marked for projects that have fallen behind schedule.

The money is required to be spent by 2018, but GDOT has identified sidewalk projects that will not be complete by that time.

Additionally, a projected $3.5 million extension of Florida Street is no longer feasible given community opposition. City planners had wanted to extended Florida Street across Lee Street through the Gateway University Research Park and NC A&T State University’s research farm. The road would have extended to McConnell Road.

But neighbors and members of the university community expressed opposition to the road project, Fischer said.

“There is really a lack of a north/ south roadway to connect streets in east Greensboro,” Fischer said. “This was a project that would create a connector street. With the growing development around the nano-science center, which would be adjacent to the roadway, there was a need to provide them access for future growth and expansion.”

Members of the university community sought to keep the research farm in tact for the time being, Fischer said.

“They saw the overall benefit of the roadway, if the farm ever became something besides the farm,” he said. “Right now they want to retain it as farm land and didn’t want the road to run across the property.”

Staff recommended a part of the money, some $1.6 million, be transferred to a sidewalk project in the same area, on East Lee Street from Florida Street to Willow Road. Staff also proposed putting $3.5 million toward phase 2 of the Downtown Greenway.

With development along East Lee Street, including Gateway Gardens and a new YMCA, pedestrian traffic is a concern.

“We have a real deficiency of sidewalks,” Fischer said. “This section of East Lee Street does not have a sidewalk. There is not a safe place for people to walk along East Lee.”

Members of the Greensboro City Council, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Zack Matheny and Nancy Hoffman, asked to take the proposal to the full city council and readdress the idea at the advisory committee’s next meeting in September. !

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