12/20/05 — Counties balk at U.S. 70 plan

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Counties balk at U.S. 70 plan

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on December 20, 2005 1:49 PM

If the plan to improve the U.S. Highway 70 corridor is to succeed, consultants told members of the Wayne County Transportation Committee and the Highway 70 Corridor Commission Monday, all six counties have to "sing the same song."

But that might already be proving difficult.

Although Wayne and Carteret counties are committed to the long-term project, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said the other four counties have been more elusive regarding a commitment.

Smith said Craven County is "in for the most part," meaning that county officials told Smith they would be more willing to join if other counties are interested.

Money, Smith said, is the biggest issue for officials in Jones County. County officials did inform Smith they would attend Highway 70 meetings, he said, but they said they have other priorities.

Johnston County officials also expressed interest in attending meetings, but they have not made a monetary commitment, Smith said.

And Lenoir County officials said they will not make a commitment until they have more information on how the Highway 70 project will positively affect their county, Smith said.

By the end of January, Smith said he hopes all the counties can have an active role in the commission.

Until that time, consultants from Kimley-Horn and Associates told those in attendance Monday, there are ways the groups can begin work to finetune the plan for the 134-mile Highway 70 corridor.

The initial study, contracted by the state's Department of Transportation, suggests the development of a conceptual access management plan. Michael Rutkowski of Kimley-Horn said the plan would provide suggestions to decrease the overall travel times throughout the corridor and the number and severity of potential crashes.

Then, the projects could be implemented at high-crash or congested locations, Rutkowski said. And there are plenty of both areas throughout the corridor, which stretches from Morehead City to Raleigh.

With an average of one stop light every two miles, 20,000 to 50,000 cars per day frequently stop on the highway. The number of stop lights has also increased traffic by 2.8 percent in the past year, Rutkowski said.

Other problems facing the U.S. 70 include excessive travel speeds, unexpected traffic control and the speed differential.

"We've all been there. You're going 60, 65, 70 mph between Goldsboro and Raleigh and you run into a signal," Rutkowski said.

A way to limit the amount of accidents throughout the corridor could be the construction of median U-turns. A relatively inexpensive improvement, Rutkowski said a median U-turn provides a driver with a deceleration lane. Instead of exposing most of the car during the turning process, the driver would cross the road and have an independent acceleration lane to enter the highway.

"We would be looking to decrease the number of conflict points at an intersection and reduce the frequency of crashes," Rutkowski said.

Traffic signal coordination could also improve travel times and safety throughout the corridor, he said.

The next step, Roger Henderson of Kimley-Horn said, is to begin implementing ideas. However, the consultants would need money to do that, and Henderson said the counties would need to provide those funds.

Kimley-Horn is not currently under contract to the corridor commission's member counties. If the company were contracted, Henderson said there would be specific tasks that would need to be completed during the next year. Since the counties would provide $25,000 per year, Henderson said each would want to see quick progress.

"The initial tasks won't be big. That'll be a couple of years off at least. We will do some little things," he said. "We will do the small, and then move to the big things."

If Kimley-Horn is hired by the commission, Rutkowski said he and his associates would begin immediately to improve U.S. 70.

"Ultimately, we envision working with the communities along the corridor in developing a consistent tool to help protect the corridor," he said.