10/24/06 — Residents challenge access plan

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Residents challenge access plan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 24, 2006 1:52 PM

It was standing room only in the large conference room at City Hall Monday, as dozens of residents turned out to voice their concerns over the U.S. 70 Access Management Study.

Goldsboro City Councilman Chuck Allen opened the public hearing with comments on the plan and reminded those in attendance that the council was not in charge of implementing it. Rather, he said, the Department of Transport-ation was at the helm of the project.

"This is a DOT project," he said. "But we do have contact with DOT and we will certainly let them know what concerns you have."

Business owners gave them plenty to take back to the DOT.

Attorney Trey Taylor, representing dozens of members of the audience, was one of those who addressed the council.

"Our position is very simple," he said. "We are adamantly opposed to this plan. We think there are a large number of closings of access points onto and off highway 70 that don't need to happen."

The U.S. 70 access management study was completed in July 2005 by consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates based on information provided by the transportation department. The plan details intersection and highway improvements along the 134-mile corridor from Clayton to Morehead City, which would reduce accidents, reduce the amount of traffic lights and allow for quicker travel on U.S. 70, transportation officials said.

On Monday night, Taylor introduced a few of his clients before talking about specific problems the plan would create for local business owners.

"What I would like to do at the outset, so you know who my clients are, I'd hate to name them all because I'd probably miss a few. I would like everyone here tonight who is opposed to this plan to stand up."

Most in the room stood.

"That kind of gives you an idea of how important this is to my clients," Taylor said. "This is a matter of critical importance. They have spent a lot of time and money making Goldsboro a great place to live and a great place to work."

He also said officials have not been forthright about why the plan is important for Goldsboro.

"I think there's a dirty little secret about this plan," Taylor added. "This isn't really about safety. Many of these closings are not to make this road safer. The dirty little secret is that it's to make it quicker to travel from Raleigh to the beach. I think that many of these closings are proposed to inconvenience us to make sure people from Raleigh have less inconvenience."

Many of the highway and intersection improvements were suggested by the state transportation department and Kimley-Horn, but county and municipal officials agreed during a meeting this summer that improving U.S. 70 to a 70 mph, restricted-access freeway is pertinent for the future of eastern North Carolina.

In the past year, officials from Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Craven and Carteret counties have met regularly to discuss the future of U.S. 70 and how each entity could help. Constructing a new U.S. 70 corridor would cost about $1.2 billion, but some officials have suggested making spot safety improvements to the existing corridor.

Some of those improvements, which were suggested in the U.S. 70 access management study, would be in critical locations in or around Goldsboro.

Those who stand to be inconvenienced are business owners along U.S. 70, particularly those between Wayne Memorial Drive and William Street, Taylor said.

"This is going to hurt existing businesses," he said.

The U.S. access management study suggests the closure of service road access in three locations east of the William Street interchange. One of the service road closures would be directly in front of the Pizza Inn off U.S. 70, with another parallel on the other side of the highway. The third service road closure is off the westbound lanes near Norwood Avenue, according to the access study.

Some of the businesses near the proposed closures are owned by people Taylor was representing Monday, he said -- restaurants, car dealerships and more.

"When you look at the amount of taxes that are paid by these businesses, it's tremendous," he said. "The impact could be devastating if we made it difficult to get to these businesses. If (people) can't see anyway to get in and out, they'll move on down the road and maybe stop in the next county at a little more convenient place."

Phil Baddour, who was representing Wilber Shirley, said approval of the access plan would hurt his client's barbecue business.

"The proposal would allow a right turn out of his business and prevent the person from crossing over and turning left to go back toward Goldsboro," he said. "They would have to go all the way down to the (N.C.) 111 intersection and make a U-turn to come back. That is one of the most dangerous intersections already and I think it would be a mistake to put more pressure, more traffic, at that intersection. Mr. Shirley feels this would be detrimental to his business."

The proposed improvement near Wilber's Barbecue is known as a directional crossover. The intention is to control which way a driver turns at an intersection.

For example, if an eastbound driver on the four-lane reaches a major intersection, that driver could turn left off of the four-lane onto a side road. But a driver coming from the side road couldn't turn left onto the four-lane. A barrier would force the driver to turn right until he or she reaches a left-turn lane where he or she could make a U-turn. It would be the same for drivers trying to enter or exit a business, such as Wilber's Barbecue.

Taylor said despite their lack of complete control in the DOT-run project, the council owed it to the citizens to fight the proposition.

"We ask you, please don't hurt the people of Goldsboro to help the people in Raleigh get to the beach faster," he said.