BY DEBBIE PAGE
At its January meeting of the Troutman Planning and Zoning Board, Stantec’s Mike Rutkowski presented the Troutman Alternatives Study, which aims to find solutions other than the unpopular Southwest Bypass proposed to cut through residential and farmland areas in the 1980s.
The town hired Stantec to look at Troutman’s pressing traffic facilitation needs as well as pedestrian accessibility, connecting existing roads, and improving intersections. Currently, Highway 21 carries 12,000 to 17,000 vehicles per day, with large trucks accounting for about 800 of those, through the town.
The study incorporated input from several public meetings, advisory committee findings, and a two-day charrette about the six alternatives identified in the study.
The input helped develop the five guiding principles to select the best alternative: the requirement of connectivity; pedestrian and bicycle considerations; the safety of all users; the corridor support of surrounding uses through attractive design; and quality development/redevelopment along the corridor.
Using these criteria and all the community input, Stantec selected the Main Street widening option, from Appliance Drive to Cedar Lane, which would connect to the R-2522 NCDOT Project to widen Highway 21 from Cedar Lane to Barium Lane.
However, the Highway 21 widening project, one of 900 put on hold by NCDOT, is now estimated to be delayed to 2028 for right-of-way acquisition and 2029 to begin construction. The department’s funds were depleted by overspending and less gas tax money with reduced travel during the pandemic.
Stantec’s proposal divides the corridor into two main sections:
The Eastway Drive to Appliance Avenue section creates a four-lane, 35 mile MPH gateway into the Main Street downtown area with a 10-foot side path, canopy trees, landscaped and concrete medians, and a “gateway” roundabout at the southern end of Eastway Drive. This gateway, which is the “front door” to the community, sets the tone for the visitor experience in the community. The triangular strip just north of the roundabout is the site for a recommended “Gateway Park,” featuring the relocated Depot/pavilion, gardens, flexible lawn space, a walking trail, outdoor seating, wood fencing, a multi-use trail, and parking.
In the second section from the gateway roundabout to Cedar Lane, the study recommends 2 to 3 lanes of 25 MPH roads with pockets of divided median where allowable. Limited right of way and home proximity makes a four-lane road impractical in this stretch.
This area would have 5-foot sidewalks on each side of the road, canopy trees, landscaped median where appropriate, curb and gutter, and retaining walls at key locations. This well-lit streetscape area with public art and wayfinding signage would attract more investment — commercial, residential, office, and service — in the area.
High visibility crosswalks are planned at Houston Road, Arden Center, Ostwalt-Amity Road, Royal Oaks Drive, Trackside Road, Autumn Leaf Road, Pine State Road, and Cedar Lane.The Flower House Loop intersection would also be redesigned and realigned.
The study also recommends working with state and federal agencies to add a new northbound I-77 ramp and removal of the existing northbound loop in the northeast quadrant. This change would eliminate the hazardous weave movement now necessary under the bridge area.
Other general recommendations included creating higher density housing around the new Gateway Park, encouraging the development of a hotel at Exit 42, requiring collector street connections and accesses to new developments, requiring new developments to make greenway and sidewalk connections, restricting Main Street truck traffic to deliveries only, developing an overlay district to guide quality design and mobility, and implementing financial incentives to encourage businesses to relocate or stay downtown.
Rutkowski urged the board to consider recommending the study proposal, which would cost about $23.2 million, not including right-of-way acquisition (only 2.5 acres total) or design/engineering costs (approximately $2 million). The narrow strip right-of-way needs on this project will speed negotiations and lower costs.
The study chops the project into segments to spread out the cost and to create access to specific funding pots suitable for each area.
Segment One from Winecoff to Eastway includes widening to three lanes, planted medians, sidewalks, canopy tress, and a high visibility crosswalk ($3.3 million).
Segment Two from Eastway to Ostwalt-Amity includes widening to four lanes, planted medians, a 10 foot multi-use path, canopy trees, and crosswalks ($7.7 million), as does Segment Three of Ostwalt-Amity to Appliance ($7 million).
Rutkowski suggested starting with Segment Four, the Gateway Park at Eastway and Main ($900,000), Segment Five, the Eastway Drive Roundabout ($1.2 million) as a good traffic-calming measure with easier access to safety and traffic funding, and Segment Six, the 10-foot multi-use pathway from Eastway to Winecoff to connect Gateway Park to downtown Troutman ($860,000).
Starting with these relatively low-cost segments would create a strong impact for a relatively low funding from the town, the consultant said.
The Seventh Segment is the I-77 ramp reconfiguration at a cost of $2.2 million, not including any bridge costs.
The project, which could be completed in phases, could be paid for by Troutman’s already approved NCDOT moneys as well as funding from the NCDOT Spot Safety and Hazard Elimination funding, grants, public/private partnerships, a bond referendum, the Main Street America program, the NCDOT Strategic Transportation Investment Law funding, the FAST Act, and Safe Routes to Schools money.
Rutkowski urged the town to move on at least part of the project before it lost available NCDOT funds. He felt nothing in the proposal would present design limitations, and all segments meet NCDOT design criteria.
Planning Board member Mark Taylor agreed, saying that NCDOT would likely match the gateway roundabout segment. He advocated for stepping ahead of the NCCDOT and working from Cedar Street to the south on the gateway corridor, with NCDOT completing its phase later and tying into the end of Troutman’s work at Cedar.
“This is the opportunity to get the money we need,” said Taylor.
Rutkowski spoke of community frustration with traffic and its impatience to get moving on solutions, adding that “we have the opportunity to leverage other funding.”
Interim Planner Jonathan Wells noted that an opportunity to apply for some new NCDOT funding was coming up in February that would be applicable to this project.
Rutkowski said the project resulting from the study was brought to fruition to address Troutman’s traffic woes. He urged the board to endorse the project, which will move forward to Town Council consideration on February 11.
The study represents a guideline for the town, not a a final design, so it can be tweaked as needed through the completion process. Rutkowski also warned that unless the town has a project framework formally adopted, no agency or funding source will take the town’s requests seriously.
Taylor moved to endorse the study’s proposals to the Town Council and ask staff to aggressively work to secure funding sources. After Karen Van Vliet’s second, the board passed the motion unanimously.
In terms of the suggested 12-year time frame, Rutkowski suggested in the first year creating a Gateway Overlay District to guide development along this corridor. In year two, Troutman, with the help of NCDOT funds, could build the gateway roundabout and complete the Gateway Park with town and private funds or grants.
Rutkowski said the roundabout could easily access NCDOT road safety money that the agency set aside. With the high traffic volume on Highway 21 and the relatively low project cost, he predicted that some segments of project would score very well in the cost-benefit analysis used to award project funds.
In years 3-4, the town could add the multi-use path in Segment Six with local and grant/private funds. Years 4 to 6 could focus on the new I-77 ramp and Segment One (Winecoff to Eastway Drive improvements) using CRPTO/NCDOT funds.
Years 6-8 would focus on the Eastway to Ostwalt-Amity four-lane segment and years 8-12 on the Ostwalt-Amity to Appliance Drive four-lane improvements. Each segment would also include the multi-use paths, landscaped medians, and intersection improvements.
This project would connect up to the NCDOT widening project near the peanut or double roundabout at the Wagner Street intersection. NCDOT stopped the work on this intersection analysis before a decision was reached.
Troutman Town Council asked staff and the planning and zoning board to consider two requests on the topic of permitting goats within the town limits.
The first request was to draft an ordinance that would allow, under certain circumstances, the temporary use of goats to control invasive vegetation (goat grazing), and the second request was to draft an ordinance amendment which would allow keeping goats as domestic pets.
Wells conducted a literature search of other communities’ ordinances and how they are regulating goat grazing, and he reached out to goat herd vendors who provide this service to interested property owners to obtain their perspective.
Wells looked at achieving a balance between crafting an ordinance that from the town’s standpoint was enforceable and respected the needs of the community while considering the goat herders’ standpoint to not be overly-restrictive and prohibitive from an operational standpoint.
Erika Martin, who brought the goat questions to the town that started this discussion, sent another letter asking them not to regulate the goats and to use nuisance ordinances where needed to avoid wasting enforcement resources.
She instead wants a pet goat to teach her girls responsibility, eat scraps, and control kudzu and was interested in renting goat herds for kudzu control after seeing costs. She noted that both Mooresville and Statesville allow goats.
If the town does adopt an ordinance, board member Barry General suggested a goat-to-acreage ratio, and Van Vliet suggested enclosure rules to avoid encroaching on neighbors’ properties. Others suggested rules on cleanup of waste be included, as well as discussion of horses and sheep in town limits as well.
Bruce Tedder advised looking at Mooresville, Statesville, and Iredell County rules.
Wells will take the planning board’s input and his own research to the Town Council at its February 8 pre-agenda meeting for further discussion of goat and other animal regulations to the Code of Ordinances.