05/23/08 — Back on Beston

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Back on Beston

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 23, 2008 2:51 PM

Displeasure over the state's failure to install stoplights at Beston Road and U.S. 70 near Walnut Creek and concerns about eliminating some U.S. 70 access points Thursday night dominated what was to have been a public forum on the proposed new U.S. 70 corridor.

About 100 people, including several candidates for Wayne County commission and other local officials, attended the two-hour forum hosted by the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission at the Wayne Center.

Supporters of installing stoplights at Beston Road laid the blame on county commissioners and Goldsboro City Council for the state's decision not to install the lights. The supporters say they still want the stoplight, even though the highway is already known for its numerous traffic lights -- about 70 from Clayton to the coast.

Jill Nielsen, whose family owns the Goldsboro Pizza Inns, said state Sen. John Kerr of Goldsboro and Rep. Van Braxton of Kinston told stoplight advocates they needed to get city and county officials behind them and "you can get a light." She said that support never materialized.

"The city and county need to be listening to their people in the county," she said. "This is affecting us in our business, family, children and parents."

She said she did not want to give the impression that she was directing her frustration at the state Dept. of Transportation. She said she has had several "good conversations" with DOT officials.

Rather it is directed towards local officials, she said.

"We want them to hear all who speak, not just a select few," she said.

Ms. Nielsen, William Britt, who lives near the intersection, and commissioner candidate Willie Ray Starling of Mount Olive as well as others said the intersection is still dangerous.

"The main problem is it might be four-lane, but it is still a rural road," Britt said. "But if you don't run 70 (miles per hour), you get run over. You need to control the speed and enforce the speed limits. A stoplight will help slow them down."

Compounding the problem is that the road is heavily used by slow farm equipment, he said.

Ms. Nielsen said when she visits her parents at Walnut Creek she does not like to use Beston Road, but rather enters through a back road.

Starling said the intersection's new layout penalizes local farmers and businesses. A sentiment that was echoed by others in attendance.

"I have spoken to business owners and have been told that since this intersection has been changed that there has been a 25 percent loss to the businesses currently there," he said.

He said political interference allowed by Wayne County commissioners stymied placement of stoplights at the intersection.

Mike Rutkowski of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., which is working with the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, agreed that there might be a better way to handle the traffic at the intersection. But he also questioned why such a major development would have only two entrance/exists.

It was an observation that he made several times during the session, noting how development had been allowed along the existing roadway. For example, he said he had seen one business along U.S. 70 that had four driveways.

"Why?" he asked. "Probably because they asked for them."

Rutkowski said the purposes behind the proposed new bypass and retrofitting of the existing roadway are "safety, mobility and economics."

He said the commission is "adamant" about not adding any new traffic lights. It also wants to ensure that every community along the 135-mile highway corridor from Clayton to the coast is treated fairly.

Joe Daughtery, another candidate for commissioner, said during a recent trip along U.S. 70 he had noticed new traffic lights in another county.

Rutkowski said he was familiar with the lights but asked Daughtery if he had noticed where traffic lights had been removed. If a light is added, then one needs to be taken away, he said.

"Do I understand you to say you can put a stoplight at Beston Road if you get rid of another," Daughtery asked.

"Possibly," Rutkowski said.

"Is the red light at the McDonald's (on U.S. 70 west near the Little River) more important than Beston," Daughtery asked.

"Do you live there?" responded Lutabelle Lawrence, who lives near that intersection.

Rutkowski said a major problem with traffic lights on a busy road like U.S. 70 occurs when motorists come upon them unexpectedly and have to "slam on brakes" to stop. He used the traffic light at Oak Forest Road as an example. He said traffic traveling east tops the overpass at Berkeley Boulevard while building up speed only to have to stop at a traffic light.

Daughtery said flashing lights to alert motorists of stoplights would be a solution to that problem. He said the flashing lights are already in use along U.S. 70 between Selma and Clayton.

"All of us consider U.S. 70 as our road," said David Quick, a member of the Wayne County Transportation Committee.

He said that when Gov. Jim Hunt was in office that a rural task force had looked at problems in the state to determine the "biggest impediment" and had "zeroed in" on U.S. 70 in Goldsboro.

Shortly thereafter, the legislature changed and the U.S. 70 project "fell out of sight," he said.

"We were passed by Charlotte and Raleigh," Quick said.

Ms. Nielsen said she was concerned about the retrofit plans that would close off one of the access areas near the U.S. 70 Pizza Inn and how it would affect the business.

"It will hurt our community tremendously," she said of the plans to close access points along the highway.

She also questioned why places such as Clayton were put ahead of Goldsboro.

Rutkowski said politics play a role in the process as well as issues like wetlands, and he said that funds to build roads are "getting harder to come by."

Quick said U.S. 70 isn't just Goldsboro's main street, but is the county's as well.

"The road will have much to do with the success or failure of the (Global) TransPark (at Kinston)," he said. "Highway 70 is the lifeblood."

He said adding more stoplights would make U.S. 70 look like Ash Street (the old U.S. 70) with its succession of stoplights.

"We need to put pressure on the legislators to get the funds to build the bypass, then the stoplights will be a moot point," Starling said.

Ray Hall said the bypass would hurt "our property taxes as well as our businesses."

"I'd like to see people stop and spend money in Wayne County," he said.