01/06/09 — Mount Olive officials change traffic pattern

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Mount Olive officials change traffic pattern

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 6, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Motorists in downtown Mount Olive should be prepared for changes in downtown traffic patterns after the town board voted Monday night to follow a state Department of Transportation recommendation to allow traffic to cross the railroad tracks on Center Street without stopping.

Starting as early as next month, DOT will begin the transition that will create throughways on Main, James and Pollock streets at Center Street while placing stop signs for traffic on North and South Center streets.

Town commissioners approved the change Monday night after CSX Corp. Railroad official Nelson Hijah raised safety concerns about traffic being forced to stop on the railroad tracks.

Currently, traffic on North and South Center streets has the right of way. Traffic on Main, James and Pollock has to stop at the respective intersections with Center Street before proceeding. In addition, traffic crossing the tracks has to yield to Center Street traffic.

Commissioners approved the change following a brief public hearing at which two people spoke.

"The way it is set now if you come down Main Street going (west) toward (U.S.) 117 (Bypass) you have to stop on the railroad tracks since that angled parking is such that it is hard to see if somebody is actually coming until you are in the middle of the intersection," said the Rev Dennis Draper.

Bobby Herring agreed.

"I have almost had several accidents myself sitting on the tracks and not being able to see," he said.

Herring said his daughter was involved in an accident on North Center, "mainly because she couldn't see."

"I have thought for 20 years that it ought to be changed," he said.

Hijah said he arrived in town early to observe traffic at Main and Center streets.

"A number were forced to stop on the tracks through no intention of their own and had to yield to traffic on Center," he said. "This is a very dangerous situation."

DOT official Andy Brown reiterated those concerns.

Hijah said CSX has a lot of trains going through town each day. Even running at a slow speed it would still take a train at least a half-mile to stop.

"Due to the traffic flow patterns I come begging you tonight to consider changing them," Hijah said. "It is a bad situation and you probably have school buses that utilize that crossing as well as motor vehicles with hazardous materials.

There is also state law to consider, he said.

"The law is very clear that they (buses) will not stop on a crossing. They must stop at every crossing at least 15 feet or no more than 50 away and when they commence to go they must go without stopping or changing gears if they have manual transmission."

That state law, he said, applies to buses, hazardous materials vehicles and vehicles with 15 or more passengers.

"Also in that same law no driver it says that no driver will enter a grade crossing unless there is sufficient room to clear his vehicle on the other side of the grade crossing," he said. "And what I am seeing here is this sign saying yield to the right and that is causing these motor carriers, school bus drivers no other choice but to stop on the crossings."

The solution, he said, is to make the streets throughways.

Town Attorney Carroll Tur-ner said a number of people had called him Monday to say, "If it isn't broke why fix it."

"I think what you are recommending probably will have to be done," he said.

Turner said he was not aware of any accidents in downtown Mount Olive because of the crossings. He also questioned whether there still would be a stop sign before traffic crossed the tracks.

That would need to be addressed by the DOT, Hijah said. He then repeated the state law on crossings.

"With the state law saying no driver is to stop on a crossing I hate to think one would be forced to do so. You are blessed there has been no incidents, but the potential is there."

Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. said a train clipped his late mother-in-law's car years ago when she was caught on the tracks. There was some movement to make the traffic change, but it fell by the wayside when people "got up in arms," he said.

"The thing that bothers me most is the liability part of it," McDonald said. "CSX has proposed it and I guess DOT is in agreement with it and if we don't do it what is the consequences if something happens.

"Like Carroll, I had calls, but I think once you explain it to people that it is for safety that they will have a different taste about it."