03/01/04 — Bridge at new U.S. 117 and N.C. 581?

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Bridge at new U.S. 117 and N.C. 581?

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 1, 2004 1:59 PM

Goldsboro must decide between having a bridge with no highway access or a stoplight that could cause traffic gridlock, at the end of the new U.S. 117.

The state said it would either build an "at-grade" intersection with a stoplight at Ash Street Extension or it would build a bridge that would not provide access to the new highway.

Neither makes the city happy.

The local Transportation Advisory Committee, which has members from both the City Council and county commissioners, began talking to the state Department of Transportation last year when it learned about the state's plan to build the intersection with a stoplight. Instead, local officials want a half-cloverleaf overpass that would provide access to the highway.

The concern is that a stoplight would cause traffic to back up at an intersection many people will use on their way to and from work at Cherry Hospital and O'Berry Center.

City Councilman Chuck Allen also noted that there would be two stoplights within one-eighth of a mile of each other at the end of the new highway.

The first stoplight, Allen said, would be bad enough. It is on the side of the bridge closest to Cherry Hospital, where it connects with Ash Street Extension, also known as N.C. 581.

"You'll cross the bridge and come down to a stoplight for five or six lanes of traffic," Allen said. "Then, in another eighth of a mile, there will be another stoplight."

Allen said state transportation officials told him that rumble strips would be placed on the road to slow the traffic.

Allen said a bridge with a half-cloverleaf would eliminate the need for a stoplight and provide safer traffic movement.

The entire 22-mile highway, being built west of the existing U.S. 117 between Goldsboro and Wilson, will pass by Fremont and Pikeville and end south of the Ash Street Extension at the existing U.S. 117 South. The project is expected to cost more than $123 million in state and federal tax dollars.

Allen received news recently that the state would build the bridge, but wouldn't allow access from the bridge to the new highway. The state said that adding highway access would require another environmental study, which could delay a project that has undergone years of environmental assessments.

"The DOT says that all we said was a bridge, and a bridge doesn't require them to have another environmental" study, Allen said. "If they put access from the bridge, like a half-cloverleaf, they would have to conduct additional environmental studies, and they don't want to slow the project down."

Basically, Allen said, the choice was to take the bridge or the at-grade crossing and live with it for another four or five years until studies could be completed.

Allen told the council last week that he needed feedback.

City Councilman Charles Williams said he thought most of the traffic toward that intersection was coming from Goldsboro, so the bridge should suffice.

"The local traffic is OK," Allen said. "But what about the tractor trailer traffic from out-of-town? They'll have to know to get off at the Raleigh exit."

Allen said that a decision needed to be made soon because construction was under way.

"Every day we wait, it's a problem," Allen said. "Right now they're working on an at-grade crossing."

The city plans to meet with representatives from Cherry Hospital, O'Berry Center and other businesses in the area within the next week to get their comments.