When the Carolina Panthers arrive, people will want to come see them. Not to mention all the people who will work or live at the more than 200-acre Rock Hill site where the NFL team plans to set up headquarters by 2022.
Team and city officials say part of the planning has to involve ways of getting all those people to and from their destinations.
The team presentation Nov. 5 to the planning commission in Rock Hill involved road improvements that will be needed to ease traffic in and around the team site.
Bill Meyer, city planning director, said a new interchange on I-77 between its Cherry Road and Dave Lyle Boulevard exits will handle about three quarters of the traffic coming to the training facility site.
“The other 25% of the traffic would be through the local road network,” Meyer said.
The Panthers site will add millions of square feet of commercial, retail, restaurant, hotel and other space. Plans allow for a skyscraper, and other buildings as tall or taller than anything in York County now. The full project will take more than a decade to build, and road improvements in the plan spread out toward targets of 2024, 2032 and 2039.
Mark Hart, Panthers COO, spoke briefly about traffic in late October with a group of Rock Hill economic development leaders and investors. Hart said the team looked at a dozen or so areas for possible improvement.
“If you’re from Rock Hill, if you care about traffic, if you care about things done right, you should be comfortable that we’ve identified areas that we’re going to fix or improve or make things work so that this is good for all of us,” Hart said last month.
One road issue the improvement plan presented Nov. 5 is an unusual one — construction coming too quickly. Road work is known to take several years by the time projects are identified, right-of-way bought, utilities moved and funding identified. Yet a York County Pennies for Progress effort to make Mt. Gallant Road three lanes is ready to start within a couple of months.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about how the needs of this (Panthers) project can be rolled into that project,” Meyer said.
“We don’t want to see something go in the ground and be ripped up in a matter of just a few years.”
Several improvements involve Mt. Gallant Road. Needs include making Mt. Gallant five lanes from Nations Ford Road to John Ross Parkway, major improvements at the Anderson Road intersection with Mt. Gallant and new intersections at the Paragon Way extension and Langston Street.
There’s discussion on whether improvements at Eden Terrace should involve an intersection or roundabout. New turn lanes are envisioned on Cherry Road at Riverview Road, Anderson at Eden Terrace and Anderson at Langston.
Extended turn lane improvements are proposed on Cel-River Road at both Paragon and Eden Terrace, and on Mt. Gallant at John Ross.
“These are turn lanes that already exist today but would just need additional capacity,” Meyer said.
Traffic signals are proposed, when enough vehicles begin using the roads, on Mt. Gallant at the Paragon extension, Cel-River at Eden Terrace, Anderson at Langston, Eden Terrace at Riverview and Mt. Gallant at Langston.
“It’s a complex program that I think everyone is committed to getting these improvements put it,” Meyer said.
Road improvements are common requirements of large subdivisions or business parks approved in York County. Typically they involve one or two roads, but the size and scale of the Panthers project has it looking out further. There also has been considerable discussion in recent months about light rail connecting Charlotte to Rock Hill.
Team leaders say they see it as a possibility, and even asked for transit hubs as an approved land use in the plan, but don’t have any specifics on when or where light rail might work on the Panthers site. Light rail extension would be a decision involving federal, bi-state and local government bodies, not just the NFL team.