The Monroe Expressway, a toll road that opened for business on Tuesday, is expected to be a boon to a university that is already in the midst of an enrollment boom.
Wingate University’s main campus is suddenly 15 minutes closer to Charlotte.
After a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting in the chilly sunshine, the Monroe Expressway opened for business on Tuesday afternoon, reducing a trip from Wingate to Charlotte by about a quarter of an hour. By taking the 16.5-mile drive from the Expressway’s entrance just past the football stadium on Austin Chaney Road to its conclusion at U.S. 74 near the interchange with I-485, drivers will avoid about two-dozen stoplights through Monroe.
The toll road’s opening seems somewhat surreal for many people, who have heard rumors of a bypass for three decades.
“In the late 1980s, I began working in Union County, and at that time there were whispers about this magical roadway, both a people mover and a goods transporter from one end of Union County to the other in just the blink of an eye,” said University President Dr. Rhett Brown. “In the ’90s I believed that this magical roadway was more of a myth, more like a Sasquatch or a unicorn – talked about, some knew, some suspected, but never seen.”
Brown and others at the University have been eagerly anticipating the opening of the road for years. Fast, direct access to Charlotte opens the University up to potential new students, and to a greater number of opportunities for those students once they are enrolled.
“Wingate is the fastest-growing independent college or university in North Carolina,” Brown said. “Part of the reason is our healthcare-education programs. But for us to give back to the community with quality healthcare professionals, we need clinical rotations that our students can get to for their healthcare education, and this expressway will help us do just that as we deliver on the public good for the citizens of our community.”
With an N.C. QuickPass transponder, it will cost $2.12 to drive from the Wingate interchange to U.S. 74 West. Drivers without a transponder will pay $3.27 and will be billed through the mail.
Despite the tolls, the roadway is expected to be a huge boon to Union County. Chris Platé, executive director of economic development for Monroe and Union County, said the county stands to profit in many ways from the new roadway.
“It’s the opportunity for our county to retain and grow our prosperity by beginning to appropriately plan new areas for proper development that can correct the residential-to-commercial imbalance that currently exists,” he said.
Those new areas include the towns of Wingate and Marshville, which have stood relatively undeveloped as Union County has more than doubled in population, to 230,000, over the past 20 years. Some estimates show the area surrounding Wingate and Marshville growing from about 8,000 residents now to around 30,000 in the next decade.
With that growth in mind, a couple of years ago Wingate University began buying property along Main Street in Wingate toward the Expressway interchange. The University has purchased more than 100 acres along Main Street and around the interchange.
Now, a university that over the past 20 years has itself more than doubled in size – in terms of student population and physical footprint – is poised to grow even further.
November 27, 2018