02/18/07 — Residents take aim at U.S. 70-Beston Road crossover

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Residents take aim at U.S. 70-Beston Road crossover

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 18, 2007 2:07 AM

The "chances are slim" for a stoplight at the intersection of U.S. 70 East and Beston Road, officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation told area residents Friday.

Local residents have clamored for a stoplight, but state engineers say the directional crossover already under construction is the best way to prevent accidents without slowing traffic on the four-lane highway.

Residents have long-asked state officials for improvements to the intersection, which has claimed several lives in traffic accidents in recent years as development in the area increased traffic coming off Beston Road. But when crews started building the crossover, adjacent business owners and people living in the area protested, saying the crossover would do more harm than good.

Friday's meeting at Wilber's Barbecue was the second this year about the project. More than 70 people were present, most opposed to the crossover plan.

After hearing the complaints restated, state highway officials remained adamant about the plans to build the crossover, which would prevent traffic on Beston Road from going directly across U.S. 70.

Tom Betts, a member of the state Board of Transportation, said engineers had studied the intersection for months before deciding on a plan to make the intersection safer. State officials have hesitated to build more stoplights along the four-lane, which already has more than 60 between Raleigh and the coast.

"What we do is not going to please everybody. We never do," Betts said.

Betts said engineers would reconsider the arguments but made no promises. Work on the crossover began in November and is expected to be complete in early spring.

Project manager Jerry Page told those present that the chief purpose of the highway is to carry large amounts east-west traffic rapidly and safely through the central portion of the state. U.S. 70 is a major artery between the Piedmont and the coast, he said.

But residents were more concerned about how the highway serves them.

"Back then, the highway was designed for local folks. Now, it's for Raleigh beach fanatics to blast through here at 80 mph," one resident said.

Several said the state needs to push ahead with plans to build another bypass north of the existing one. That road would carry the bulk of long-distance traffic, they said. Plans are on the books for such a bypass, but the new highway will be years in the making.

Both residents and transportation officials agreed that speeding drivers are one of the main reasons so many accidents occur at the intersection. NCDOT engineer Ricky Greene said there have been 71 accidents at the intersection over the past 10 years, causing about 100 injuries and two fatalities -- one of which was a 6-year-old girl. About 70 percent of the accidents at that intersection were "angle crashes" when one car is slowly turning and another car traveling faster hits it at an angle, Greene said.

Some residents questioned whether DOT was more interested in how fast it can move traffic rather than in how safe it makes highways.

"I was here at the last meeting and the DOT preached mobility, not safety," a resident said.

Betts said safety is always the No. 1 priority of the transportation department.

"We preach safety. We wouldn't be here if this was not one of the most dangerous intersections in the division. We don't want anymore blood on our hands," he said.

Not all of the opponents of the project are landowners. Several emergency services officials said the crossover would slow response time by ambulances, deputies and fire trucks.

Steven Mozingo, chief of the Elroy Volunteer Fire Department off U.S. 70, said he understands that transportation officials have a hard job. He just doesn't want them to make the wrong decision.

"You will save lives no matter what you put up. I just ask that you don't prevent me from saving one of my neighbors," he said.

Jimmy Kornegay, who owns A.K. Grading and Demolition off U.S. 70, said Walnut Creek residents will also suffer if the crossover is built as planned. The new intersection will force vehicles coming off Beston to turn right before making a U-turn to turn back left. For cars headed east, that U-turn will be in front of Walnut Creek.

"At Walnut Creek -- all of those cars -- someone's going to die there. The first time you kill one of those high-dollar lawyers, someone's going to take you to the cleaners," Kornegay said.

But Greene said he personally studied the specifications of the proposed U-turn several times and sees "no reason why it couldn't be used for U-turns."

Even at the most congested times in the morning, Greene said there would only be maybe six vehicles waiting to make a U-turn.

Farmers said they opposed the U-turn lanes because they will not easily accommodate the large equipment they must get from one side of U.S. 70 to the other. When the weather gets warm and beach traffic picks up, the movement of farm equipment will also increase, they noted.

Transportation officials emphasized that they had listened to residents' suggestions at their last meeting and incorporated some of them into the work that is going on. Tests were made to ensure that tractor-trailers could negotiate the U-turns, they said, and some of the medians were resurfaced and expanded.

Kornegay disagreed with their tests and said his trucks are larger than the ones used by DOT officials to test the lanes.

State Rep. Van Braxton said he had been told by transportation officials that the department had already committed too much time, money and effort into building the crossover and that it was "too late" for residents to force the state back to the drawing board. But Braxton said it could still be possible for the residents to get a stoplight.

If the community is able to get four county commissioners to request a local bill for a stoplight, Braxton said he would use his position on the Transportation Committee to get that bill on the House floor. State Sen. John Kerr said he would do the same in the Senate.

Several residents said they plan to make a formal request at the next commissioners' meeting, which is set for Tuesday morning at the courthouse.