Matthews boosters have put a lot of time and energy into turning downtown into a destination.
But a state transportion project that’s slowly winding its way toward reality threatens to undo all of that.
The project calls for a significant widening of East John Street — one of the primary roads constituting the Matthews downtown area — into a “superstreet” as it enters Union County.
An estimated 25 homes and one business in Matthews are expected to be condemned as part of the project.
The project was first announced in 2013, but resistance appears to be coming to a head now as public hearings have been held on different aspects of the project.
Break down this project for me.
The project calls for a “superstreet” that is 6.5 miles long and would widen and streamline a primary thoroughfare from Union County through Matthews onto I-485 and into Charlotte. Most of it is uncontroversial. Traffic is bad through here.
At issue is the segment that runs straight through Matthews’ downtown. The project actually begins right near the central intersection of John and Trade. This is the Matthews version of Trade and Tryon, minus the skyscrapers.
There is a Mac’s Speed Shop right there, though, on East John.
The construction would have a pretty significant impact on the downtown area.
The whole project is expected to cost $87.5 million. The state’s timeline calls for buying up property beginning in 2020, with construction beginning two years later.
Wait, what’s a “superstreet”?
A superstreet, according to the NCDOT, is one with more efficient intersections. Side streets are only permitted to turn right onto the superstreet, instead of being able to go left or straight. If they want to go the other way, they’ll have to proceed to a U-turn point.
In this project, the streets would also be widened dramatically from one lane in each direction to two or three.
What about the effect on downtown?
The state says they’ve made several changes to the project to mitigate the effects on the small-town charm of downtown. The road won’t be quite so wide through the downtown area, and there will still be on-street parking there.
The intersection of John and Trade streets will remain full-movement, instead of restricting the turns.
The town of Matthews also pressured the state into hiring design consultants to incorporate pedestrian-friendly aspects into the final design.
How does Matthews feel about it?
Matthews residents know that John Street has a traffic problem, but many people don’t feel like this project is the answer.
About 700 people have signed a petition asking local officials to kill the project.
“Matthews residents value our historic and pedestrian friendly town,” one petition signer wrote. “We look forward to the light rail and other REAL solutions for problems created by too much car traffic moving through Matthews.”
“There does need to be a solution to the traffic problem but destroying the Matthews ‘feel’ should not be the way to do it,” another wrote. “I moved to Matthews because I loved the hometown feel. This ‘super street’ will make our town just as ugly as 74. Please don’t do this to my/our town!”
Mayor Jim Taylor has said that he and the entire town council is opposed to the superstreet project.
The state, however, has the final say.