03/10/08 — Is Beston intersection safer?

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Is Beston intersection safer?

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on March 10, 2008 1:52 PM

Accidents are down at the Beston Road and U.S. 70 interchange, but residents and business owners say they still have mixed feelings about the changes made there.

The interchange, which is located a few miles east of Walnut Creek, used to be known for traffic accidents, officials said. The flashing yellow light didn't do enough to hinder the beach-going travelers from speeding or to stop the frequency of crashes as motorists scurried through the intersection.

So last June, the North Carolina Department of Transportation implemented a directional crossover and added signage prohibiting a U-turn or a left turn from U.S. 70 onto Beston Road. Since then, accidents have dwindled.

But residents and business owners around the intersection don't know if NCDOT's efforts have made the situation better or worse than the previous conditions.

So far in 2008, there have been no accidents reported, and only one was reported in early 2007, according to crash data from NCDOT.

In total, from 2004 to date, there have been 23 accidents at the intersection, including 13 that sent one or more people to the hospital.

In others, no one got hurt, and their cars had only minor damage.

But, in January 2005, a deadly crash occurred.

A 6-year-old girl was killed when her mother pulled out in front of an eastbound oil tanker in the right lane after turning around in the median.

And that got NCDOT's attention.

After several meetings with residents, local business owners and county commissioners about how to decrease accidents at the intersection, the transportation department decided to implement the directional crossover and eliminate U-turns and left-hand turns from either direction on U.S. 70 onto Beston Road -- a solution that the officials thought best both then and now.

"I am confident that the channelization and acceleration lanes were the correct things to do," said Haywood Daughtry, NCDOT Eastern and OBX regional traffic engineer.

During the lane implementation, the department also improved the shoulders and added signs warning travelers that farm equipment might be using those shoulders.

"Well, I can say that we have not had, I have not received any complaints since the switch," said Andy Brown, the NCDOT Division 4 traffic engineer covering Edgecombe, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Wayne and Wilson counties.

But others, like local residents and businesses around the intersection, have a different opinion on NCDOT's solution. They would rather have the stoplight that residents in the area made a push for in the early stages of the project planning process.

Now, with the crossover lanes, if someone comes from Goldsboro and wants to turn left onto Beston Road, or if a farmer wants to cross U.S. 70 to get to his farm on the other side, they have to drive almost a mile down the road to a turnaround across from the Country Butcher Shop -- a process that is not only an inconvenience, but costly, locals say.

David Vinson, a local farmer, said he has spent hundreds of dollars more on gas because he has to drive up the highway to get across the road.

He also says the new way he has to turn his farm equipment around is dangerous.

That equipment has to immediately merge into the acceleration lane when it pulls off of South Beston Road because the driver has to be in the left lane to turn around.

"It's become more dangerous for me, my employees and the community really," he said. "I have farm equipment out there that's going 20 mph and merging with people in the fast lane."

The directional crossover lanes and the new signage did nothing but move the danger from one spot to three spots, he said.

And just because there haven't been car accidents reported doesn't mean the danger is completely gone, or close to it, he added.

"We have had probably 50 close calls just that I know of," he said.

Ray Hall and David Brown of Pappy's Army and Navy store agreed with Vinson, saying that the intersection causes confusion, and in turn, danger.

"People are doing stupid things," Brown said, like using the median to turn around instead of driving a mile up the road or driving against traffic to turn left from the store to get back onto Beston Road.

"We're going to have a bad one," he said. "It's an accident waiting to happen. It's not whether it's going to happen, but when it's going to happen."

Brown said that he is expecting to hear of an accident soon, too.

"People are still cautious about it because it is confusing," he said. "When they start to know it better, they will speed through."

For Handy Mart employee Casey Walston, the intersection is just one big mess.

"Honestly, for me, I think it caused more confusion," she said.

And the intersection change is also affecting the businesses' bottom lines.

Hall said his business is down about 25 percent because those patrons coming from the eastern part of the state who used to stop in just drive by now because it is such a hassle to get to the other side of the highway.

Handy Mart owner Judson Pope said his business is down, too, by 15 to 20 percent.

And although he does believe the intersection is safer, he doesn't believe a stoplight would make it any less safe. If anything, he said, it would help more than the current solution.

"Convenience stores like anything that slows traffic down," he said. "I would rather have a stoplight than a left turnout. I think what they have done is made trips to the beach faster. Do we need people to speed through Wayne County? I don't think so."