01/22/06 — Katrina orders cause traffic tie-up

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Katrina orders cause traffic tie-up

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 22, 2006 2:08 AM

Since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, a Wayne County industry has been operating 24 hours, seven days a week to supply shingles to help reconstruct the city.

But although the boom is good for business at GAF Materials Corp, the number of trucks entering and exiting the complex, located off two-lane Old Mount Olive Highway, has caused a safety and traffic concern for drivers, officials say.

Wayne County Board of Commissioners approved this week allocating $15,000 toward creating a deceleration lane to protect truck drivers and other motorists from accidents and to relieve the congestion caused by the corporation's increased business. The county is hoping the state will cover the remaining $160,000 needed for the project.

GAF Materials' 400,000-square-foot plant produces 100 styles and colors of shingles. Since Hurricane Katrina, demand has increased and caused the company to run three shifts seven days a week. The increased demand also has caused a three-month waiting period for current orders. To meet the extra demand, trucks continuously enter and exit the plant. It is for this reason that county officials believe the road must be expanded.

Mike Haney, existing business and industry specialist for Wayne County Economic Development, said the idea to expand the section of Old Mount Olive Highway came after an in-depth look at the problem and possible solutions.

Haney said it is his job to check the needs of existing industry and to help those businesses overcome obstacles to their success and growth. In the case of GAF, the trucks entering and exiting the plant represented a real problem.

"If the plant were built today, because of the amount of traffic, the state would require a turn lane," Haney said. "The Highway Patrol had stopped by and seen some of the trucks stopped on the road. The department said they would have to start issuing tickets if (GAF) couldn't get the traffic flowing. GAF did the best they could to spread out the trucks, but they were still having problems."

The traffic also caused many drivers to take undue risks when passing the trucks on a two-lane highway, Haney added. For the safety of all of the drivers, all findings concerning that section of the highway were taken to the Wayne County commissioners.

The board decided a deceleration lane was necessary not only for the safety of drivers along the highway, but for the continued growth of the business as well.

Included in the resolution approving the work is a request to the North Carolina Senate to fund an additional $160,000 for the state's Department of Transportation to install the turn lane.

Sen. John Kerr said similar turn lanes have been constructed for other businesses in the county, such as Uchiyama America and Georgia-Pacific. For GAF Materials, he said he hopes the county will receive discretionary money for the project.

"There is money available in the highway fund. We usually try to increase the amount of money we have and partner with the local government," Kerr said.

Near the end of last year, Kerr said he traveled to Old Mount Olive Highway to examine the traffic with his own eyes.

"They have got a lot of trucks coming in and out, and it gets very tight on the shoulders," Kerr said.

On any given day, Haney said there are 125 trucks entering the complex to unload supplies or exiting to deliver roofing material. When Kerr went to inspect the traffic, he said there were at least eight trucks trying to enter GAF while travelers unsafely passed.

"This is without a doubt a safety concern," he said.

Kerr said it takes time for the Department of Transportation to begin a construction process, but that he hopes it can begin soon.