04/19/05 — Residents oppose changes to U.S. 70

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Residents oppose changes to U.S. 70

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 19, 2005 1:48 PM

A number of Wayne County residents opposed a plan presented Monday by state transportation officials to redirect traffic and close some median crossings on U.S. 70.

Information on the proposals was presented in a workshop held at Eastern Wayne Elementary School.

Officials reminded the people present that the plan is a only preliminary proposal.

"This is just a planning exercise and it's just in its infancy stage," said Mike Rutkowski, the project for Kimley-Horn and Associates, the firm hired by the state to conduct the study. "There's no funding at this point."

Rutkowski said the study had three goals: Eliminate accidents, ease traffic congestion and reduce the need for new traffic signals and possibly eliminate existing ones.

There are 102 unsignaled intersections and median openings along U.S. 70 in Johnston and Wayne counties. Kimley-Horn is proposing to close 23 of them and redesign 44 so that only left turns are allowed, not cross-highway traffic.

DOT officials briefed Wayne County officials last month on the plan, which includes closing the median at Lake Wackena Road and redesigning the intersection at Walnut Creek Drive. But the maps presented Monday didn't include those suggestions, transportation officials said.

Rutkowski said part of the long-range study includes developing roads off U.S. 70 that could later serve as primary connector roads. The roads in and around Walnut Creek and across the highway couldn't serve as connector roads, so the area needed to be left open, he explained.

The plan includes completely closing the median at O'Berry Center Road and also the median near Camden Park Drive, close to the WGBR radio studios.

The state would also close the highway's entrances to the service road between William Street and Wayne Memorial Drive, which primarily serve hotels.

Several openings would be redesigned to allow left-turns off the highway, not onto it. These include access at Long's Plant Farm Road, Powell Road, Uzzell Road, Bridgers Road, Whitney Church Road, Ebenezer Church Road, Westbrook Avenue, Martin Street, Spring Street and Westwood Drive, in front of Wilber's Barbecue.

Restaurant owner Wilber Shirley opposed the move, saying it would stop traffic from his parking lot from going east and west as it exits.

Shirley said he believes that forcing drivers going east on U.S. 70 to go to the stoplight at N.C. 111 poses a greater hazard than the existing crossover in front of his business.

"It is three-tenths of a mile to the stop light," he said. "Try getting over into the left turn lane in this distance."

Shirley said that the 111 and U.S. 70 intersection is already congested, and that adding traffic would create more problems.

"The main issue you have on U.S. 70 is that people are traveling at a tremendous speed," said Jim Trogden, a DOT engineer.

Trogden said the purpose of the study was to determine methods to increase travel, or decrease congestion.

"We want to improve safety," he said. "There are intersections where you have to negotiate two lanes of on-coming traffic."

After crossing the first two lanes, and making it safely to the median, the driver then has to maneuver around two more lanes of traffic.

"It's a combination of decisions made where high speed is involved that creates conflict points," Trogden said. "Having the directional cross-overs limits the number of decisions you have to make."

Transportation officials said that 40 percent of the accidents on U.S. 70 were caused by rear-end collisions.

"People are getting killed out here," Rutkowski said.

Rutkowski said that they wanted to protect the integrity of the highway and were "not here to jam this down your throat."

"We're asking you for feedback," Rutkowski said.