02/08/12 — Citizens say 'no' to closing of road

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Citizens say 'no' to closing of road

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 8, 2012 1:46 PM

Residents of the Zion Church Road community east of Mount Olive were successful Tuesday in convincing Wayne County commissioners not to recommend dead-ending their road.

To help persuade commissioners, one resident, William Farmer, has agreed to donate the land necessary to realign Zion Church Road so that it would still intersect with N.C. 55.

State officials had proposed closing a portion of the road because of the number of traffic accidents at the intersection.

But several area residents cited their own safety concerns as they spoke against the closure and Farmer presented commissioners with a petition signed by 545 people opposed to the road closing.

The state last spring asked the county to consider abandoning 200 feet of the road in order to close its intersection with N.C. 55 and N.C. 403. Action was delayed in order to allow residents in the community to meet with Department of Transportation officials.

The state's concern was the number of accidents and two fatalities at the intersection over the past five years. However, residents told commissioners that they could recall only one accident caused by a motorist on Zion Church Road.

Most were caused by traffic on N.C. 55, N.C. 403 or Pineview Cemetery Road, they said.

"The proposal is to either realign Zion Church Road and hook it into 55," said DOT district engineer Chris Pendergraph. "We would want to put plenty of distance from the (existing) intersection since it doesn't make any sense to realign it and just move it 50 feet down the road because it is still a traffic problem. We need to move it far from the existing intersection."

Failure to do so would create another "conflict point" on N.C. 55, he said.

An option to keep from adding such a conflict point would be to look at abandoning a section of Emmaus Church Road that is currently a dirt road between N.C. 55 and Zion Church Road, he said.

If that section of Emmaus Church Road is abandoned the property would go back to the property owner, he said. Pendergraph said he has not spoken to the property owner.

Pendergraph said Zion Church Road would be tied back into N.C. 55 between 600 to 800 feet east of the existing intersection.

"The other option is to just basically cut the road off, dead-end it more or less and come back and pave that section of Emmaus Church Road," Pendergraph said. "Any traffic instead of going back to 55 this way to 403 would have to come back this way to Emmaus Church."

Indian Springs Fire Chief Phil Shivar, who said he was also speaking for the Pricetown Fire Department, expressed concerns that closing Zion Church Road could create safety hazards.

Shivar said he supported hooking the road back into N.C. 55.

"This would keep two access routes to the 13 residents and one hog farm currently located in the affected area," he said. "The low area west of the Emmaus Church Road area, east of the residences, has flooded several times over the years. During an emergency situation it could slow or stop response for emergency personnel."

And in the event of a fire, having just one access route would limit the availability of water, he added.

Shivar said he could recall only one accident caused by someone on Zion Church Road.

"Most of the accidents that have occurred involved cars crossing 55 highway from 403 or Pineview Cemetery Road," he said.

Maria Marroquin, who lives on Zion Church Road, said that she also was concerned about flooding.

"There is no way we can get help," she said. "I would probably have to take my children across the field. We were all very concerned when this was brought up."

She agreed with Shivar that most of the accidents were caused by motorists on N.C. 55 and N.C. 403 and not by those on Zion Church Road.

Farmer said 75 to 80 people live between the swampy area on Zion Church Road and its intersection at N.C. 55 and N.C. 403.

"If you dead-end that road it is essentially going to trap those people under certain conditions," he said. "If that swamp is flooded, emergency vehicles, fire departments, police personnel can't get to them.

"In order to maintain that connectivity for those folks who stay a little further west of that millpond and to provide quick access to that area I am willing to donate the land. I think it is going to take maybe 200 feet to loop it back into N.C. 55 and 700 to 800 feet east of the intersection. It would be a 60-foot right-of-way."

Commissioner Jack Best said that the county does not have authority to tell the DOT what to do -- it can only make recommendations. In the past DOT has done a good job in making highway safety improvements, he said.

Best made a motion that DOT and Farmer work together to find the best solution. However, Commissioner Steve Keen asked for more specifics about the motion.

Best restated the motion, this time adding that that state abandon the necessary length of Zion Church Road with the preferred solution being to tie Zion Church Road back into N.C. 55.

The motion, which did not mention Emmaus Church Road, was unanimously approved.