01/04/09 — Mount Olive officials to eye traffic shift in downtown area

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Mount Olive officials to eye traffic shift in downtown area

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 4, 2009 2:00 AM

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A vehicle crosses the railroad tracks at James and Center streets in Mount Olive, while another one waits to begin its crossing. Currently traffic on North and South Center streets has the right of way. Monday night, town commissioners will hear from state Department of Transportation and CSX Corp. railroad officials who want traffic crossings at Main and James streets to have the right of way.

MOUNT OLIVE -- The decades-old flow of traffic through downtown could change should town commissioners Monday night act on what is being called a dangerous situation that leaves the town facing a major liability.

State Department of Transportation and CSX Corp. railroad officials will be at the commissioners' Monday night session to express concerns about traffic crossing the railroad tracks that bisect the town. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Currently, traffic crossing the railroad tracks at Main, James and Pollock streets has to yield to traffic traveling north or south on Center Street.

The state is mostly interested in the Main Street crossing since it is a state-maintained road. CSX is interested in Main and James streets.

James Street is one of the town's main connections to Duplin County, while Main Street connects the downtown area to the U.S. 117 Bypass.

Both DOT and CSX want the town to change the traffic pattern so that vehicles crossing the tracks have the right of way while traffic on North and South Center streets would have to stop for traffic crossing the tracks.

Town Manager Charles Brown said Monday's meeting will, in effect, be a public hearing to allow people to comment on the issue.

Commissioners could actually vote on the change during the meeting.

Installing stop signs along Center Street would not happen as quickly, though, he said.

Before that can occur, the state would erect signs warning of a pending change in the traffic flow pattern -- something that it did not do years ago when a stop sign was erected without notice on the west side of North Center Street at West College Street.

The town has been aware of the railroad crossing problem for several years, Brown said.

"It has been a situation for years where the traffic crossing the railroad tracks has had to yield to traffic on Center Street," he said. "They (state and CSX) say that is an unsafe situation and ask what would happen if a car or bus got stuck. It would be a major problem."

Chief of Police Ralph Schroeder agrees.

"You have buses that have to stop while going over the tracks," he said. "They have to yield right of way. When it (traffic pattern) was set up it was set up wrong. It should have been set up with traffic having to stop north and south instead of east and west.

"When I first started (with the police department), we had to direct traffic there from 3 in the afternoon until about 5:30."

People going over the tracks have to yield to traffic coming from the right, and that is dangerous, he said.

"Put a car on the tracks and somebody decides that they have to back up," he said. "The tail end of their car is high, and they can't see behind them."

There have been several accidents, including fatalities over the years, involving vehicles and trains.

Brown said he has been stopped on the tracks waiting for traffic to make a left turn or just waiting on traffic only to look south toward Calypso and see the bright light of a distant, but oncoming train.

The town once before attempted to make the change, but residents raised such an outcry that the town backed down, he said.

"But with DOT and CSX, maybe they (public) will take notice," he said. "I hope having their backing will make it easier to sell to the public."

Along with a safety issue, the current pattern is confusing to visitors, Brown said.

Traffic on College Street already has the right of way crossing the railroad tracks. Traffic crossing Pollock Street is not as busy as on Main and James streets, Brown said.

There are flashing lights and crossing gates at College, Main, James and Pollock streets.

The warning devices were installed several years ago after the town agreed to close several street crossings.