CHARLOTTE, NC (Jamie Gwaltney\Charlotte Observer) - Developers of an apartment complex in south Charlotte agreed to contribute $50,000 for a traffic signal as part of the project's rezoning, but five years later residents are frustrated that it has not been installed.
Earlier this month, a vehicle seriously injured a child at a different intersection near Ballantyne Elementary, prompting residents to renew their push for the traffic signal that they feel they were promised.
In 2012, developers of Legacy 521 Apartments contributed $50,000 for a traffic signal at Lancaster Highway and Landing Place Lane, which connects the apartments' entrance and the entrance to Ballantyne Elementary School.
Residents Robert Bizon and Doug Campbell opposed the development at zoning meetings, worrying about increased traffic and safety. After seeing the apartments built and their neighborhood grow, they are questioning why there still isn't a traffic signal.
Bizon, a resident of the area since 2003, said the traffic around the elementary school backs up and cars turning left fight oncoming traffic. The speed limit along Lancaster Highway is 55 miles per hour.
Campbell has two children attending Ballantyne Elementary. He sees parents and children trying to cross Lancaster Highway without the help of a crossing signal.
"It is almost a game of Frogger, so to speak, with people trying to get across," said Campbell, a resident since 2005.
This intersection is part of a larger problem for the Charlotte Department of Transportation: more requests than funding.
Each request for a traffic signal is followed by a signal warrant analysis. Engineers must assess traffic volume, how many signals are in an area and the crash history, among other things. If CDOT recommends a traffic signal be installed and the N.C. Department of Transportation agrees, then a signal can be put in – but only if there is the state funding to do so, said Katherine Dennis, the public services division manager for CDOT.
While there is $50,000 for the signal on Lancaster Highway, the analysis showed it could cost roughly $173,000 to install, Dennis said. The cost could rise to $250,000 after the design is finalized.
GCI Residential LLC agreed to a partial funding of the traffic signal at a June 2012 City Council zoning meeting, but only up to $50,000. Eric Bell, a representative from GCI at the meeting, said he had heard concerns about traffic along Lancaster Highway from residents of the Providence Pointe neighborhood and he hoped the money contributed would cover up to half the cost.
"Lancaster Highway is a very fast, very busy street. I don't think it is a terribly safe one for the elementary school, and we hope and think that with our project being put there, a traffic signal will be warranted, which would really make a very safe way for kids to get from Providence Pointe into the elementary school in the future," Bell said during the 2012 meeting.
With development booming in south Charlotte, more requests come from that part of Charlotte, said Charles Abel, transportation systems manager for CDOT. Roads must adapt to support the increased number of residents and cars. But with many projects and requests, it becomes a matter of prioritizing and measuring the need for a signal, Dennis said.
"We have a complex system here that includes not only the city's signals, but the state's too," Dennis said.
City Council member Ed Driggs of District 7, who hears traffic concerns from residents regularly, said it took years of lobbying to put one traffic signal in at the intersection of Rea Road and Piper Glen Drive.
"It took a lot of pushing from a lot of parties," he said.
When conditions are met for changes to be approved, Driggs said, it can be a battle for funding. Projects can be pushed to the back burner even if there is a need for them.
"Almost every rezoning that comes along has traffic issues," he said. Driggs said it isn't just south Charlotte that faces backlash from residents who don't want development.
"That sort of tension is almost always there," he said.
Campbell said there isn't much to do now about the development, but he hopes the roads change to handle new conditions.