02/21/07 — Commission not likely to back stoplight query

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Commission not likely to back stoplight query

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 21, 2007 1:47 PM

Residents who are asking their commissioners to put a stoplight instead of a crossover at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Beston Road made their case Tuesday, but are not likely to get the answer they want.

About 40 residents waited for the Wayne County commissioners to decide whether they would support a resolution asking the state for a stoplight at the intersection, but the board never made a decision. And it probably won't, commission chairman John Bell said.

After more than an hour of listening to the complaints of 17 residents, Bell told them the board would gather their complaints and address them with the state Department of Transportation.

Beginning in November, transportation officials began construction of a $300,000 directional crossover that would prohibit vehicles from directly crossing U.S. 70 at Beston Road. All vehicles needing to get from South Beston to North Beston would have to make a U-turn at either the Walnut Creek or the Country Butcher Shop medians.

When Bell discussed the issue with transportation officials, NCDOT officials told him they had discussed the intersection's safety issues with the North Carolina Highway Patrol. Both parties concluded that a stoplight would be more dangerous than the planned directional crossover.

Since a stoplight would increase the amount of rear-end accidents and create an unsafe hazard for vehicles traveling across the highway, transportation officials told Bell a directional crossover is the safest solution for that intersection.

The residents had hoped that at least four of the commissioners would support a local resolution asking for a stoplight. That kind of local support would be used by state Rep. Van Braxton and Sen. John Kerr to get a bill through the General Assembly.

But now it is looking more like construction will continue on the crossover.

Many residents said Tuesday they fear more accidents if traffic is diverted to the Walnut Creek median.

"This will create a permanent detour that's unsafe," Tony Stanley said.

Thomas Uzzell told commissioners about the families who leave the area every morning to take their children to school.

"If you divert traffic there, it will cause more problems," he said.

Other business and property owners have voiced opposition, saying farmers' equipment is too large to make the U-turns. Also, traveling to other medians keeps that equipment on the road longer and could cause more accidents.

"If I put my tractor-trailer trucks on 70, it's an accident waiting to happen," farmer David Benson said. "If a car runs into my equipment, my driver is going to be OK, but the person in the car will get killed."

Nearby volunteer fire departments and other emergency personnel have also voiced their concerns about a directional crossover because it might increase their responses time to an emergency.

"How would you feel if an emergency vehicle had to travel an extra mile and a half if you're having a heart attack. I've had two heart attacks, and I know seconds are precious," Benson said.

Others simply wondered why that intersection was chosen for this project.

"Why are we the people of Beston Road being treated differently? Why are we the only ones forced to go around to get across the highway?" Buddy Smith asked.

Retired lawyer and Walnut Creek resident Gene Braswell asked the commissioners to preserve the integrity of one of the oldest communities in Wayne County. As one of the last crossroads in Wayne County, Beston Road has grown "by leaps and bounds with agriculture, housing" and commercial uses. To allow people and businesses to cross the highway, the intersection needs a stoplight, Braswell said.

After their concerns were voiced, Bell told the residents he would take their concerns to transportation department officials. Many residents voiced their anger because they have already met with those officials twice in the past month.

Many residents left the meeting saying the commissioners and the state care more improving mobility on U.S. 70 so other North Carolinians can get to the beach faster.

Some farmers said they didn't think the commissioners cared about their concerns.

"The commissioners will work with the airport authority and the base to fix their problems. Why not work with the farmers?" William Uzzell said.