Officials from Cary and Morrisville anticipate increased traffic on N.C. 54, but they also expect it will be about a decade before the already crowded road gets any major improvements.
The road, which passes through both towns, was just one of several topics addressed Monday at a quarterly joint meeting between both town councils and staff members. The leaders also touched on new school sites, libraries, golf course noise, panhandlers and various traffic concerns.
Benjamin Howell, Morrisville’s transportation planner, said an official report from the state on future projections for N.C. 54 is due in November or December. He said that report will hopefully qualify the highway for what’s known as a STIP grant.
If the road widening project receives the federal grant, he said, the money could be allocated anytime between 2017 and 2022. The highway would likely become a superstreet, like N.C. 55 in Holly Springs.
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The highway between the Wake-Durham county line and downtown Cary is narrow – either two or four lanes for most of the seven-mile stretch.
The highway could become six lanes wide in the future, possibly expanding up to eight or 10 lanes at some intersections.
Morrisville leaders want a slightly smaller thoroughfare. A traffic study said a four-lane N.C. 54 would serve the town’s needs well into the future, Howell said, so they saw no need to ask for a larger road.
“We’ve had that discussion here,” Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman said. “It would really divide the town.”
Cary Town Council member Jennifer Robinson arrived about 10 minutes late to the meeting, which was in Morrisville. She missed most of the N.C. 54 discussion and noted the irony.
“I was just on 54,” she said. “It took 54 minutes. It was terrible.”
Weston Corners development
Stohlman said the only areas in Morrisville where N.C. 54 might eventually reach six lanes are in the far north part of town, and near Park West Village.
That area near Park West Village is growing. Already home to an entrance to the sizeable Preston neighborhood, it’s also the site of increased residential growth on both sides of the road.
Park West Village itself has been building more apartments on site. Across N.C. 54, the developers behind Cary’s numerous Weston projects are building Weston Corners, a new mixed-use development, at the intersection of Weston Parkway and N.C. 54.
Cary officials believe it will add 170 to 200 additional vehicles to the road during morning and evening rush hours.
“It was planned before Park West, but it kind of got on the backburner after the recession,” Stohlman said. The project is technically in Cary town limits, but the land directly before and after it is in Morrisville.
Weston Corners has parapet-like towers on the apartments and will have about 350 apartments and townhouses. The developers have permission to build six-story buildings but only have proposed going as high as four stories, according to Town of Cary planning documents.
The developers also hope to build 150 to 170 condominiums in the future, but those plans haven’t received approval from Cary yet.
The 21-acre mixed-use development also will contain more than 32,400 square feet of retail space, all facing N.C. 54.
Stohlman said Morrisville officials expect it to be a competitor with their downtown-style Town Center project, which they hope will be a public-private partnership on Town Hall Drive.
In October, a consultant told Morrisville there is $93 million in untapped annual spending in the area for stores and restaurants – money that people living in Morrisville and northern Cary spend in other areas instead of close to home.
Weston Corners will be open long before Morrisville’s Town Center project, which is still in the conceptual stages.
Cary staffers said they are considering an exception to town rules to let the Weston Corners developers start leasing units immediately.
Typically, developers have to finish roadwork before their project can open for business. For Weston Corners, the developers have to widen N.C. 54 in front of the property. They’re also building a parking garage on site – a costly project usually beyond the budget of smaller developments.
“They’ve got some money tied up in this thing,” said Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht.
If Cary’s staff grants the approval to start leasing units before the roadwork is complete, they said, people could possibly start moving into apartments within six months. The retail buildings, however, are not yet finished.
Clarification: In a previous version of the story, Cary Town Council member Lori Bush was quoted saying she likes the idea of expanding to six lanes on N.C. 54. She later said she supports a four-lane plan.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran