Sunday, June 26, 2022

Can Southport roads support Project Indigo traffic? Locals say no

Southport’s existing infrastructure relies on Howe, which splits into N.C. Highway 211 and N.C. Highway 87 — the only way to reach the quaint coastal town. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHPORT — Ask any resident or business owner in downtown Southport what their major concern is regarding the city’s proposed Project Indigo. The answer will be the same among most of them: traffic. 

If approved, the multi-use development will bring an additional 1,500 residential units, along with retail, restaurants and health care space, west of downtown Southport. Project Indigo also would double the population and significantly increase the amount of vehicles traveling in the historic seaside city, which only has one main road leading in and out of it. 

READ MORE: ‘Project Indigo’ proposes 1,500 homes in Southport

“It’s going to be horrible,” Jill Denmon, a resident and employee at Southport Cheese Shoppe, said. 

Living on the city’s west side, Denmon confirmed it already takes her 45 minutes to get to work, but increasing the traffic will make her commute unbearable. She said she is not a fan of what she sees as the city’s unsustainable growth, having lived in Southport for two decades — though she is grateful for the customer boost.

“I liked it better 20 years ago,” Denmon admitted.

Around 35 comments have been made through Project Indigo’s resource page since it launched a few months ago. Many suggest officials fix existing problems, such as the lack of stoplights and narrow roads, before inviting population growth. 

Susan Stowers of NC Plantation Antiques in Southport told Port City Daily she couldn’t foresee a version of Project Indigo that would satisfy locals.

“It infuriates me,” Stowers said of potential impacts. 

Project Indigo’s 346-acre build is currently equipped with two access points. One entrance at the property’s northeast corner would connect to Robert Ruark Drive, which leads to U.S. Highway 211. This would allow Indigo residents leaving or returning to town to enter the property without traveling onto over 50 blocks of crowded downtown streets. 

The other access location would be farther south at 9th Street in front of Southport Elementary School. Drivers would be directed to Howe Street to exit the city or head into downtown. 

Southport’s existing infrastructure relies on Howe, which splits into N.C. Highway 211 and N.C. Highway 87 — the only way to reach the quaint coastal town.

Since January, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has been widening Highway 211 between Highway 87 and N.C. Highway 906, also called Southport Supply Road. The 7.2-mile strip will move from two to four lanes, but it won’t be completed until 2026. 

Some Southport residents say the Highway 211 widening might transport more people to the city, but there is nowhere for them to go — or park — when they arrive. Many worry about the lack of infrastructure, police and maintenance workers to support a more congested town. 

The section is part of the greater Highway 211 widening plan that will extend from Southport’s 9th Street to U.S. Highway 17. According to NCDOT, Highway 87 and the town’s Jabbertown Road are also due for more lanes. Both projects, currently unfunded, could accommodate the city’s growing development. 

According to Indigo’s Traffic Impact Analysis study, Highway 211 north of 86 had 23,000 cars a day traveling on average in 2019. NCDOT anticipates 44,000 cars per day to travel Highway 211’s widened portion by 2039. 

Developer Chad Paul, CEO of Bald Head Island Limited, said in a May 23 traffic committee meeting that Southport would need to work with other municipalities to progress the needed road expansions. He pointed to Charlotte and surrounding municipalities as an example; they formed a similar partnership to increase support for NCDOT improvements

“That’s why we’re talking about an alliance,” Paul said in the meeting. “We’re at a disadvantage because Southport is dealing with the NCDOT on its own.” 

Project Indigo’s February traffic impact analysis shows many roads will experience significant delays upon completion of the development but also offers suggestions to improve driving time. 

At Robert Ruark Drive, located near highways 211 and 87, the study found the intersection faces moderate delays currently — 25 to 55 seconds. It proposes the development would cause longer holdups, over 80 seconds, at peak hours, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

To mitigate the extended interludes, the study recommends constructing an eastbound right-turn lane and an additional eastbound left-turn lane at the intersection of highways 211 and 87. The TIA states improvements would revert the delay level to moderate. 

The study suggests the access point should be constructed with one enter lane and two northbound exit lanes, one turning left and one turning right. The entrance is expected to operate with the shortest delays of 10 seconds and under. 

The 9th Street access point does not have specific instructions in the analysis, but a southbound right-turn lane is suggested for when the road reaches Howe Street. According to the study, the intersection will have 55 to 80 seconds of delays if Project Indigo succeeds, but only 20 to 55 seconds without the build. 

Committee members are not ruling out a third entrance to Indigo on 11th Street, though they fear the idea may meet some backlash. The committee agreed they did not want to force a connection to the property on current residents. 

“That’s more of a political thing,” developer McKay Siegel, of East West Partners, said in the meeting. “There’s a lot of history with the people on 11th Street or the people in some of these other neighborhoods. If they decide that they want to be connected to the community, that’s great. As the developer, I don’t think that we should drive that bus.” 

The TIA also proposed improving blockage along Howe Street at six other intersections, including Bay Street, Fodale Avenue, 11th street, Moore Street and Stuart Avenue. 

It is unclear how many of the TIA’s recommendations will be constructed. Traffic subcommittee chair Will Hewitt did not answer interview requests by press and committee member Christopher Jones declined to comment. A request to Paul also went unanswered. 

Inter-connectivity is a priority for the project’s developers, to increase a sense of community at Indigo, according to their meeting discussions. It is also a good way to reduce traffic and parking overflow into downtown. 

Bike and pedestrian trails connecting surrounding neighborhoods could limit locals’ reliance on car transportation. A major connection from Project Indigo’s Marina Village, at the southeast corner, to downtown Southport, with a bike and pedestrian bridge, will promote non-auto mobility. 

“We’re willing to connect, but those communities are going to need to want to,” Paul said in the meeting.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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