by Jordan Green
Local transportation leaders want the state to consider funding improvements to Montlieu Avenue near High Point University, but there are contrasting visions for what the project would accomplish.
The city of High Point has a wish list of road projects that they hope will move forward if state funding becomes available. And with the state budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory adding $1.8 billion for transportation projects, some of that money could trickle down to the local level.
Mike Mills, the head administrator for Division 7 in the state Transportation Department, said transportation officials will likely know in the next three to four weeks if the funds will allow any local projects to receive funding.
The wish list put together by local transportation officials includes projects that are not funded through 2020. Among them in rank of priority are reconstructing the interchange at Business 85 and South Main Street, changes to Montlieu Avenue, extending Piedmont Parkway from Eastchester Drive west to Sandy Ridge Road and building the Jamestown Bypass.
The Montlieu Avenue project, still in its infancy, has already caused consternation. Mayor Bill Bencini invited then Transportation Secretary Tony Tata to visit High Point to discuss the project earlier this year.
“They took us on a tour to show us how Montlieu Avenue could take you from High Point University to Interstate 74,” Mills recalled. “They were talking about how important it was to get it done, along with the A-section of the Jamestown Bypass to get that connectivity.”
The High Point City Council had previously voted to close the section of Montlieu Avenue that bisected the campus of High Point University to enable the university to build a pharmacy school. The closure brings the eastern leg of Montlieu Avenue to the university’s main entrance.
A description of the Montlieu Avenue project, which is estimated to cost $10.1 million, calls for widening the “roadway to accommodate a two-lane median divided facility with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides.”
Mills touted the Montlieu Avenue project in tandem with the Jamestown Connector as giving people in High Point another way to get to Piedmont Triad International Airport besides Eastchester Drive/Highway 68 in the north and Kivett Drive in the southeast.
“[Highway] 68 to the airport is pretty congested,” he said. “This will give you pretty good access to [Interstate] 73, [Interstate] 74, PTI, downtown High Point and High Point University. It will be a pretty good economic development corridor.”
While the city’s decision to close part of Montlieu Avenue prevents the improved roadway from providing a link to North Main Street, Mills pointed out that motorists will still be able to head south from the western terminus on College Drive to get to downtown. Transportation officials’ long-term vision builds off Montlieu Avenue’s connection to Greensboro Road in the Five Points area, a commercial hub in the black community near the Interstate 74 interchange. Beyond Interstate 74, the new Jamestown Bypass — with a price tag of $48.1 million — would swing around the south side of the town and travel north past GTCC. The B-section of the project from Vickrey Chapel Road near GTCC to Hilltop Road in Greensboro is already under construction. That project includes an interchange with Interstate 73, which is the southwest leg of Greensboro’s Urban Loop and a straight shot to the airport.
But Greg Venable, a transportation planning administrator for the city of High Point, downplayed the Montlieu Avenue project as a link in a major thoroughfare.
“The project that we put forward, you’re not increasing capacity; you’re not providing new access per se,” he said. “It’s more of a beautification project. Montlieu Avenue would add bicycle lanes so you have that potential there for improving safety for cyclists. There’s a bus route there, so there’s the potential to add a bus shelter.”
Venable also downplayed the significance of High Point University to the project.
“Montlieu does end right there,” he acknowledged. “Now, it’s a private drive through campus. As far as where the road would end, that’s the end of the project — there’s that potential. But providing a safer area for all modes of transportation is probably the main goal of the project.”
Mills said the state has yet to hold a public-input meeting on the project, emphasizing that it’s still in the early stages.
Access to Piedmont Triad International Airport is also a driving force behind the extension of Johnson Street from Skeet Club Road north to Sandy Ridge Road near the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market. The north side of the city already has a direct link to the airport through Eastchester Drive/Highway 68, but the multi-lane roadway has become congested as the Palladium and other shopping centers, office parks, medical facilities and residential neighborhoods have created ever-increasing traffic loads.
An extension of Piedmont Parkway requested by the city of High Point would also build out the northern section of the city. The street currently terminates at Eastchester Drive, where XPO Logistics is located. The extension would bring it to Sandy Ridge Road, providing an east-west connection. The completed length of the street runs east from Eastchester Drive to College Road at the division between Jamestown and Greensboro. It aligns with Hilltop Road, which in turn aligns with Groometown Road south of Gate City Boulevard in Greensboro.
Of the unfunded projects, nothing ranks higher in High Point than reconstructing an obsolete intersection at Business 85 and South Main Street. Venable said the state has already committed funding to replace the bridge, which is deemed structurally deficient.
“A lot of the issues with that interchange is the ramp configuration,” Venable said. “There are actual businesses within the ramp loop with driveways. That creates a problem from an access standpoint and traffic movement. People get confused a lot of times, and they’ll go the wrong direction on those loops, which is a safety concern.”