09/23/11 — Residents question crossing closings

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Residents question crossing closings

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 23, 2011 1:46 PM

Eight easels set up at Wayne Middle/High Academy Thursday night detailed the state Department of Transportation's intentions concerning the Wayne County corridor of the North Carolina Railroad, including the proposed closing of four streets where they cross the tracks.

A steady stream of residents toured the public information gathering, which featured representatives from DOT and the consultant firm, Kimley-Horn and Associates, who addressed concerns and answered questions about the proposed changes to 13 crossings throughout the city.

The suggestions are preliminary and subject to change following a month-long public input process.

Nancy Horne, the DOT project manager, said the meeting was intended to be a two-way street, as she and other officials attempted to inform the public about changes, while seeking comments, suggestions and concerns from those who attended. Ms. Horne said public input was not something that could be gathered from studies, and had to come directly from residents.

And that, she said, is why so many roads were advertised as options for closing, particularly the three railroad crossings with Bryant, Bain and Lionel streets. Other roads being considered for closure are Mulberry and Virginia streets.

"We present a worst-case scenario, not trying to upset them, but to get them involved," she said.

Suggestions for other crossings at Ash, James, Holly, Herman, Audubon and Jefferson streets for the installation of safety utilities, such as lights and pavement markings, wouldn't have garnered as much response, she said. Once individuals show up for one concern, however, they could be educated on all of the intersections.

The most popular easel at the meeting by far was the one showing the proposed closures at Bryant, Bain and Lionel, where residents of the neighborhoods there gathered en masse to question officials on the closures.

Ms. Horne confirmed what city Planning Director Randy Guthrie said at the City Council work session Monday evening, saying the NCDOT was never seriously considering closing all three roads and would prefer to close two, leaving one as an outlet for those in the neighborhood.

"We'd be cutting off a whole community (if we closed all three) and we're not going to do that," she said.

That seemed to calm most concerns, like those of Alma Hopkin of Bryant Street, who was concerned about the closures until she learned DOT wasn't going to close all three crossings. The addition of a cross street between the three roads leading to a single crossing toward Royall Avenue made the proposals even easier to swallow for many residents, but not everyone was convinced the closures would be for the best.

Betty Spruill, whose house is on Eunice Street between Bryant and Waters, said she was a little concerned about the proposals.

"Why close any of them?" she asked, noting that the improvements cited and safety concerns didn't seem to warrant the closures. "They said it will stop accidents, that there's lots of accidents. There have been no accidents and I've been living here since 2006."

Ms. Spruill said there are more accidents at the Herman Street intersection, a crossing marked for improvements, not closure, but said she wasn't advocating for any of the crossings to be closed for the same reason the highway officials want them closed -- safety.

"We're boxed in," she said. "Emergency vehicles can't get back there and every minute counts. A loss of time could be a loss of life."

She said gas prices going up made it important as well, as even the smallest detours can be costly when fuel prices skyrocket.

Matt West, Kinley-Horn's consultant project manager, said the goal was to close as many crossings as possible, but that there had to be balance to ensure no community is cut off from the rest of the city by the closings.

West noted that one of the reasons Lionel Street was being pushed so hard for closure was because the gates there already prevent crossings during the school day. The only concern would be faculty and staff parking, which would be addressed by inserting a connector road from Lionel Street to Bain Street.

Although the other closures at Mulberry and Virginia streets weren't getting as much attention as the three near Royall Avenue, West said there had already been concerns voiced by Franklin Baking Co., which is against the Virginia Street closing.

West said the company isn't concerned about shipping or delivery because it doesn't use the streets for that, but that many employees use the street in their commute to and from work.

The Mulberry Street closing would most affect those who attend St. Mark's Church of Christ, as it would mean churchgoers would need to use Ash Street or West Grantham Street to get to the church. West said he had spoken with representatives from the church and that they were all right with the proposed closure.

Highway officials are hoping to continue to receive public input on the proposals through mail, telephone and email contact. All comments and concerns received in the 30 days following Thursday's meeting will be considered in the final decisions.

For more information about the traffic separation study or to give feedback, contact Kimberly Hinton at 919-707-6072, or at khinton@ncdot.gov. Comments can also be mailed to Ms. Hinton at NCDOT Public Involvement Unit 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1598.