With regional growth in the fast lane, town officials are looking ahead to a possible transportation bond referendum in fall 2018 while trying to accelerate state funding for town priorities.
The Town Council will not decide whether to hold a referendum until farther down the road, so no project list or dollar amount has been set. In the meantime, the town intends to move ahead with engineering design on projects to ready them for construction.
For years, Holly Springs’ top traffic hotspot has been N.C. 55 Bypass and Avent Ferry Road. Last fall, the intersection was reconfigured to benefit rush hour commuters. Completion of Main Street extension this year should reduce traffic at the intersection. Widening of Avent Ferry from the bypass to Piney Grove Wilbon Road will start next year.
Traffic improvement priorities elsewhere include widening Holly Springs Road from Sunset Lake Road to N.C. 55 and widening Sunset Lake Road from the planned extension of the Triangle Expressway toll road to the southeastern corner of Holly Springs.
N.C. 55 and also Avent Ferry, Holly Springs and Sunset Lake roads are part of the state transportation network. The N.C. Department of Transportation has maintenance responsibility for them and authority over changes, including within town limits.
However, statewide needs far exceed available funding. So Holly Springs and other municipalities in fast-growing areas are using town funds as leverage to try to move projects higher on the state’s 10-year transportation improvements schedule.
Getting projects “shovel ready” by completing engineering design also makes them more likely to earn state or federal construction grants and leapfrog projects awaiting design.
NCDOT will reimburse the town with interest for spending on projects that are on NCDOT’s 10-year schedule. For those, Holly Springs potentially could pay upfront with bond proceeds and be reimbursed years later when NCDOT had scheduled the project. The accumulated interest makes such agreements with NCDOT especially beneficial.
An example is a second phase of Avent Ferry widening between Piney Grove Wilbon and Cass Holt roads. Currently, the project is about five years out on NCDOT’s schedule. The town might be able to widen that portion more quickly with bond money, receive reimbursement in about 2022, and apply the re-payment toward other improvements.
Growth Benefits and Challenges
Traffic congestion is perhaps the most-cited “growing pain” of areas experiencing rapid growth. The benefits and challenges of development were a topic at the town’s annual planning retreat last month in Southern Pines.
“Growth is not [just] a Holly Springs issue,” Town Manager Chuck Simmons said. “It is a regional issue.”
Most of the rush hour traffic on N.C. 55 is commuters passing through Holly Springs rather than originating within it. Schools are another top source of traffic during the peak travel times of 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.
Commercial development and the residential development that attract it contribute to traffic congestion. But they also provide most of the funding for road improvements through widening along the frontage and payment of fees.
Neighboring towns and Duke Energy Progress land substantially limit Holly Springs’ future expansion other than to the southwest. The town will conduct a Southwest Area Study in light of increasing development pressures there and the concerns of existing residents.
At the planning retreat, Town Council members indicated that traffic, mass grading and density would be top concerns in evaluating proposed development.
“I think we’re in agreement that we’re going to continue to grow and need to grow,” Simmons said. “The question is how is how that growth is going to look.”