$8 million for Charlotte street lighting in transportation bill


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A visual representation of area in and around Charlotte where the most fatal and high-injury vehicle accidents occur.

A visual representation of area in and around Charlotte where the most fatal and high-injury vehicle accidents occur.

Vision Zero

More street lighting could be headed to some of Charlotte’s roads with the most fatalities and serious injuries as part of a massive transportation bill in the U.S. House.

The $8 million street lighting project is one of 29 North Carolina projects, costing nearly $111 million, included in a $547-billion, five-year surface transportation reauthorization package passed by a U.S. House committee Thursday.

The Invest in America Act includes $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety, $109 billion for transit and $95 billion for passenger and freight rail. The package is funded by the Highway Trust Fund and will distribute most of its money to North Carolina and other states based on formulas.

Members of Congress were able to request funding for specific projects in their district — a return to earmarks — this year in the House. Rep. Alma Adams, who represents much of Mecklenburg County, requested the street lighting funding. It is one of three projects requested by Adams to be included so far in the legislation.

The lighting projects would cover 22.4 miles on multiple streets throughout the Charlotte region, according to Adams’ office.

“We tout ourselves as a world-class city, and we can’t be a world-class city in the dark,” said John Ham, a member of the Charlotte Planning Commission, who first began raising complaints about the lack of lights on certain streets in 2015 or 2016.

The $8 million covers lighting at:

• WT Harris Boulevard from I-85 to Mt. Holly-Huntersville Road and The Plaza to Rocky River Road (10.6 miles)

• Brookshire Boulevard – City limits to Rozzelles Ferry Road, Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd to 1000 ft south of I-485 and Caldwell Williams Rd to 360 feet south of Bellhaven Boulevard (2.8 miles)

• North Tryon Street – Barton Creek Drive to Wednesbury Boulevard (2.8 miles)

• South Tryon Street – Carowinds Boulevard to Shopton Road West (3.2 miles)

• University City Boulevard – John Kirk Road to Pavilion Boulevard (3.0 miles)

The City of Charlotte sponsored the project. In 2018, the city created Vision Zero, an action plan to reduce crashes and eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries by 2030.

According to the group, there were 71 fatal crashes in 2017, leading to 74 fatalities. Twenty-seven pedestrians were killed that year.

“Lighting will have a huge impact on that,” Ham said. “Lighting makes all the difference in the world. I think it would definitely have a positive impact on the crimes, the fatalities. So drivers can see. So pedestrians can see. Even with some of the interchanges so people can enter and exit the highways appropriately.”

In its 2019 and 2020 report, Vision Zero “identified and prioritized 93 segments for lighting improvements along (the) High Injury Network.” The high injury network is the 10 percent of all streets in Charlotte that have a higher incidence of fatal and severe accidents.

The lighting projects correspond with some of the worst areas for serious or deadly accidents based on data from Vision Zero from 2016 to 2020.

Several stretches of WT Harris Boulevard appear among the most dangerous spots, including from Rocky River Road south to Hickory Grove Road. That stretch saw 38 fatal or serious injury accidents from 2016 to 2020.

Brookshire Boulevard on both sides of where it crosses I-85 have seen high numbers of accidents.

The stretch of North Tryon Street has had seven such accidents in the four-year period.

A stretch of South Tryon Street from Cambridge Beltway Drive to Lions Mane Street in southeastern Charlotte accounted for 51 fatal or serious injury accidents between 2016 and 2020, according to data provided by Vision Zero. The area is outside of I-485.

Earmarks return for Democrats, Republicans

Among the other projects included in the legislation was an Adams request for $8 million to transition the Charlotte Area Transportation System’s bus fleet to electric. In April, CATS announced plans to buy 18 electric buses and charging equipment for $23 million, The Charlotte Observer reported, as part of a pilot program.

There is also $2.2 million for Festival Street in downtown Cornelius.

All five Democrats in the North Carolina delegation — Adams, Deborah Ross, David Price, G.K. Butterfield and Kathy Manning — had some of their requested projects included in the bill. So did two Republicans, David Rouzer of Wilmington, whose lone request was included, and Madison Cawthorn in the state’s far-western corner.

“Aging infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. Communities across America have been neglected for far too long and in need of funding for projects that will bring about economic revitalization, especially here in North Carolina,” Butterfield said in a statement.

The other six members of the delegation, all Republicans, did not submit requests. Some have expressed opposition to the program.

Rep. Ted Budd, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022, led a letter opposing the return of earmarks in March. Rep. Dan Bishop also signed onto the letter. Rep. Richard Hudson is “staunchly opposed” to earmarks, according to his website. Reps. Greg Murphy, Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx also did not make any requests.

There were 2,383 earmarks — or member designated projects, as they are now called — requested, including 1,778 from Democratic members and 605 from Republican members, according to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

About half of the member-designated projects (1,473) made it into the original bill.

Of the normal 435 members of the House (some seats are vacant at the moment), 319 submitted requests, including 214 Democrats and 105 Republicans.

The bill is separate from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure request — the American Jobs Plan. Members of Congress were able to submit proposals for funding of projects in their district for an infrastructure bill as well.

Project name City Amount Requested by
Black Creek Greenway Cary 4,984,800 Ross
Bus Replacement Funding for Triangle Transit Systems Chapel Hill 8,000,000 Price
Transit Bus Stop Improvements Chapel Hill 900,000 Price
CATS Battery Electric Bus Fleet Transition Charlotte 8,000,000 Adams
Streetlighting on High Injury Network Charlotte 8,000,000 Adams
US 74/NC 108 Interchange Columbus 1,000,000 Cawthorn
Festival Street Cornelius 2,200,000 Adams
Bryant Bridge North/Goose Creek West Trail Durham 2,320,000 Price
Duke Beltline Trail Durham 7,726,000 Price
Fuquay-Varina Townwide ITS/Signal System Fuquay-Varina 2,560,000 Ross
Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway, Phase 2 Greensboro 6,400,000 Manning
Electric buses and charging infrastructure Greensboro 2,759,000 Manning
Greenville Bridge Repair and Replacement Greenville 2,851,200 Butterfield
South Tar River Greenway Greenville 1,775,000 Butterfield
High Point Heritage Greenway— Phase 1 High Point 4,000,000 Manning
Avent Ferry Road Realignment Holly Springs 1,000,000 Ross
B–5871 Replace Bridge no. 628 Over Lake Lure 5250. Dam and Broad River Lake Lure 8,000,000 Cawthorn
Jonathan Creek Safety Project Maggie Valley 160,000 Cawthorn
EB–5753 Baldwin Avenue Sidewalk Project Marion 349,600 Cawthorn
Airport Boulevard Sidewalk Morrisville 208,000 Ross
Hanging Dog Bridge Murphy 1,676,000 Cawthorn
US 19/129 Road Improvements Murphy 3,851,000 Cawthorn
N. Fork Coweeta Creek Bridge Replacement Otto 452,000 Cawthorn
GoRaleigh/ GoWake Coordinated ADA Paratransit Facility Raleigh 9,000,000 Ross
Downtown Pedestrian Bridge Rocky Mount 4,000,000 Butterfield
Military Cutoff Road (US 17)/Eastwood Road (US 74) Interchange (Drysdale Drive Extension) Wilmington 3,840,000 Rouzer
Pender Street Pedestrian Improvement, Infrastructure Repair, and Resurfacing Wilson 8,400,000 Butterfield
RIDE- Rural Microtransit Wilson 2,000,000 Butterfield
Silas Creek Parkway Sidewalk Winston-Salem 4,533,600 Manning

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at [email protected].