Will the Matthews East John St widening kill our downtown?
One of the hottest topics around Matthews these days is the NCCOT’s proposed widening of East John St. through downtown.
Social media is being lit on fire with the #PreserveMatthews hashtag, and others like Nextdoor are filled with sometimes respectful, sometimes angry and dismissive comments towards the project, leadership, and other residents.
I thought today I’d bring a bit of information to our community about what’s actually being planned.
Why widen East John St.
Before we get to the NCDOT design, let’s cover some basics!
If you’re a resident or you’ve ever tried driving through Matthews, you know the traffic can get bad. As Monroe Rd. becomes East John it stays 4 lanes, then backs up at Trade St., then necks back down to two lanes, widens through the I485 interchange, then back down to 2 lanes.
This project is about more than just downtown Matthews, this is a proposed 6+ mile widening from Matthews out to Wesley Chapel Stouts road to a “Superstreet” design, but the downtown section is what’s got the most attention and resistance.
Why oppose widening East John St.
The answer is simple: opponents believe it will kill the character and possibly the businesses in downtown Matthews. Widening through the intersection could destroy the “walkability” of downtown, and the Superstreet design is intended to keep traffic moving through.
In essence, they envision a thoroughfare running through downtown, cutting it in two and undoing many years of hard work to create the quaint, vibrant, and thriving downtown we have today.
Also of a concern is the number of homes (estimated 25) and businesses (1) that will be condemned for the project.
Wait, what’s a “Superstreet”?
Let’s back up and describe what a Superstreet is. It’s one of the newest design innovations in street design, and has proven very effective as it’s been used thus far.
In a nutshell, a “superstreet” is designed to restrict left-turns across the street and at intersections. Instead, it forces you to take a right-turn, then a u-turn from a dedicated lane. One of the first I was aware of was on Albemarle Rd. at the Walmart in Locust, but this was a superstreet application at a major intersection, with lights to control all turns. In layman’s terms it looks stupid but works great.
To address one of the primary concerns of opponents, the NCDOT has planned on keeping the East John and Trade St. intersection as a signalized light with left turns (just like today).
Not clear on how a superstree works? Look at the recent work done in front of Matthews Presbyterian (although, it must be noted, that is much wider than proposed in downtown).
What’s the NCDOT Proposing?
Instead of typing it all out, check out this amazing video from NCDOT:
So, Will the Matthews East John St widening kill our downtown?
Honestly, I don’t know. I admit, I’m nervous about it but don’t quite make it to the “opponent” level.
Something needs to be done along this route, and even the opponents recognize it; the question is what is the RIGHT thing to be done for Matthews?
As someone who lives near Matthews, works all around Matthews, and spends a lot of time in downtown Matthews, protecting the character of downtown is of critical importance to me.
However, there’s one fact I think has been overlooked:
At the intersection in question, the work proposed is actually very minor.
Okay, please put down your pitchforks and torches.
Watch the video above carefully, and through the intersection it looks like we’ll have a total of about 16 feet of new pavement. Total. It looks like they’ll be adding 1 lane of traffic and what appears to be a 4 foot concrete median. Please note, I’m eyeballing this and it’s not based on a review of NCDOT design.
That’s it. Everything outside of pavement is right-of-way.
Will this kill downtown? I simply don’t know. I don’t believe it’ll affect walkability, as that intersection will still have stoplights to allow crossing. I am seriously concerned that, as we alleviate congestion, we will increase average speeds through downtown.
Also, what I’ve not heard mentioned is the fact that traffic backs up along Trade Street, and this plan really does nothing to improve that.
So is the superstreet a good option? Maybe. Except for a couple of hundred feet of road near the intersection, I’m all for it… but I hope we don’t see a project that strangles downtown.
Ultimately, however, we can have our voices heard, but the NCDOT has the final say in what the project will be.
Oh, and if you’re interested in the other transportation projects planned around Matthews, check out this great page from the Town:
Food for thought. (Gluten free)
Have a great day!
Mahool Nance Team