07/24/11 — N.C. DOT plans improvements to two U.S. 117 South intersections

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N.C. DOT plans improvements to two U.S. 117 South intersections

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 24, 2011 1:50 AM

The traffic light at the intersection of U.S. 117 South and O'Berry Road in Dudley will be removed as part of major hazard elimination projects there and at the highway's intersection with Country Club Road just north of Mount Olive.

The existing crossovers will be replaced by mainline directional crossovers with U-turns on U.S. 117 approximately 1,000 feet north and south of both intersections.

The projects are included in the state's new Transportation Improvement Plan.

"It will probably be next spring or summer before it is done," said Jerry Page, state Department of Transportation division project engineer. "We have got to get it surveyed and designed."

In December 2004, county commissioners at first fought to keep the state from activating the stoplight there, which at the time was just in flash mode. The board later abandoned that fight to push for an overpass interchange that was never built.

The stoplight is the only one on U.S. 117 between Interstate 40 in Duplin County and the Wayne County Fairgrounds at Genoa.

The Dudley work is expected to cost $670,000 and the Mount Olive project $650,000, said David Morton, DOT regional traffic safety engineer.

Morton said a stoplight is not something that is desirable on a road like U.S. 117.

The changes, though, will mean that traffic on O'Berry Road and Country Club Road will no longer be able to directly cross U.S. 117.

For example, traffic traveling east on O'Berry Road toward Dudley would have to turn right on U.S. 117 South, then make a U-turn back onto U.S. 117 North back to O'Berry Road to turn right toward Dudley.

Left-turn lanes, separated from the intersection by traffic islands, would funnel left-turning traffic on U.S. 117 onto O'Berry Road.

"The U-turns will be a safe distance from the intersection so once they make the turn, they have time and distance to change lanes," Morton said. "Bulbouts will be on the other side to provide a safe place to help make the turn."

The bulbouts are semi-circular and will provide enough space so that even large vehicles, such as tractor-trailers, will be able to make the turns safely, he said.

While the new traffic flow may sound confusing, traffic islands and signs will direct the traffic.

The state began looking at the two intersections following a 2009 fatality at the Country Club Road intersection, Morton said. In that case a vehicle on Country Club Road pulled into the path of a vehicle traveling south on U.S. 117 South.

"We have been monitoring them for some time," Morton said. "There is a very strong pattern of angle crashes at both intersections and I think it is time to address the problem."

A similar project has been recommended, but has not yet become an official project, for the intersection of U.S. 117 South and West Main Street in Mount Olive in which traffic on West Main Street would no longer be allowed to cross straight over U.S. 117. The only turn that would be allowed is southbound traffic turning left onto West Main Street, Morton said.

"I don't think it will allow northbound (U.S. 117) traffic to turn (left)," Morton said.

Motorists traveling east on West Main Street would have to turn right (south) on U.S. 117 to the Smith Chapel intersection where they could take that road into town or turn left (north) on U.S. 117 back to Main Street.

The fate of that intersection has been a concern of the town of Mount Olive's committees developing comprehensive land use and transportation plans. Committee members worry that changes to the intersection would hurt potential development on the west side of the intersection.

Also of concern is how the changes could delay emergency vehicles responding to calls on the west side of U.S. 117.

A $133 million proposal to upgrade the U.S. 117 to freeway status between N.C. 55 in Mount Olive and south of U.S. 70 did not rank high enough on the state's priority listing to be included in the plan.

Two other U.S. 117 projects also did not rank high enough to be funded:

* U.S. 117 Alternate from the U.S. 70 Bypass to Belfast: Widen roadway and/or make several safety improvements, $16,425,000.

* Construct interchange on U.S. 117 at Country Club Road, $11,654,500.