03/09/12 — Status of road still not decided

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Status of road still not decided

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 9, 2012 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Initial negotiations that "did not turn out as well as expected" with property owners over the possible closure of a dirt section of Emmaus Church Road at N.C. 55 east of Mount Olive have left the fate of nearby Zion Church Road uncertain, state officials say.

What is certain is that leaving the intersection of Zion Church Road at N.C. 55 and N.C. 403 intact is not an option, said Chris Pendergraph, a district engineer with the state Department of Transportation.

Originally, DOT wanted to close the intersection and pave the dirt section of Emmaus Church Road to provide access to N.C. 55 from Zion Church Road.

Citing their own safety concerns about being isolated on a dead-end road subject to flooding, residents in the community are pushing instead for the state to realign Zion Church Road to connect with N.C. 55 about 700 feet east of the existing intersection.

However, that would create an intersection, or as DOT terms it, "conflict point," on N.C. 55 just a mile from the intersection with the dirt Emmaus Church Road.

DOT's traffic safety division has been asked to review such an arrangement.

Pendergraph said he "would hate to say" what the recommendation and final decision might be, but that leaving the intersection as it is would not be an option.

He also reserved comment on whether the recommendation might be to proceed as originally planned -- dead-end Zion Church Road and pave the short span of Emmaus Church Road.

The trend on larger, more heavily traveled roads like U.S. 70 and U.S. 117, has been to eliminate the intersections.

Pendergraph said he was not sure how long the review would take.

"In the next 30 days or so I expect to be moving forward. We would like to have it done this summer."

DOT is just moving into the start of the road construction season, so taking some time to make a decision is not delaying the project, Pendergraph said.

"Right now we know we have a problem and that we have got to do something. We have to weigh the inconvenience compared to the potential risk increase."

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 DOT officials.

The state's concern was the number of accidents and two fatalities at the intersection over the past five years. However, during a public hearing last month, residents told Wayne County 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 that also intersects with N.C. 55, they said.

A 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. Farmer presented commissioners with a petition signed by 545 people opposed to the road closing.

During the public hearing, Pendergraph told commissioners the proposal was to either realign Zion Church Road and hook it into N.C. 55 or close it and pave the dirt section of Emmaus Church Road.

Another option would be to look at abandoning the dirt section of Emmaus Church Road to avoid creating another conflict point.

If that section of Emmaus Church Road was abandoned, the property would go back to the property owner, he said. That is the negotiation that did not "go as well as expected," he said.

If Zion Church Road is realigned then the dirt section of Emmaus Church Road would not be paved, Pendergraph said.

During the public hearing, Commissioner Jack Best noted that the county does not have authority to tell the DOT what to do -- it can only make recommendations.

Commissioners approved Best's motion that DOT and Farmer work together to find the best solution.