03/11/12 — Safety concerns prompt look at changes at U.S. 117 and O'Berry Road intersection

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Safety concerns prompt look at changes at U.S. 117 and O'Berry Road intersection

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 11, 2012 1:50 AM

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Vehicles travel north on U.S. 117 at the O'Berry Road intersection.

DUDLEY -- Safety concerns may be the more immediate motivation behind efforts to replace the U.S. 117 South and O'Berry Road intersection with an interchange, but the project also fits in with a much longer-range vision of the highway as an extension of Interstate 795.

A route has not been finalized, nor any contracts awarded to extend I-795 from Goldsboro south to Interstate 40 in Duplin County.

However, that is the goal of local and state leaders, and a Dudley interchange would take care of the middle section of the highway, said Chris Pendergraph, state Department of Transportation district engineer.

For now an interchange would not only eliminate the solitary stoplight between I-40 and the Wayne County Fairgrounds, but could mean a faster, and legal, speed limit.

The current 55 mph speed limit could possibly be increased to 60 or 65 mph on the section of road south of its intersection with U.S. 117 Alternate to Mount Olive.

Surveying for the project has begun and design work is moving forward, Pendergraph said. There is no timetable or no cost estimate yet.

The project has drawn the attention of the DOT leadership, and prompted them to seek funding for the work, he said.

Pendergraph said he had been somewhat surprised by the number of people he had spoken with who did not fully understand what an interchange is.

"Either U.S. 117 or O'Berry Road would go up and over the other," he said.

There has been no decision yet which road will go up, he added.

Public hearings will be held on the project once designs are completed, Pendergraph said.

He said he believes the state already owns enough right of way to proceed with building the interchange. That could speed the project up considerably, he added.

The interchange is actually a package deal that also would close the Country Club Road crossover on U.S. 117 just north of Mount Olive.

Traffic headed north on U.S. 117 would not be able to turn left onto Country Club Road, but rather have to continue to the Dudley interchange to turn back south. Traffic headed south on U.S. 117 would have to take N.C. 55 to head back north.

Pendergraph expects there will be some resistance to that closure.

Another option that has not been discussed -- completely closing access to Country Club Road from U.S. 117 -- probably would meet even more resistance, he said.

The median closure and its safety impact actually helped to boost the Dudley interchange on the state's priority rankings, Pendergraph said.

The state, after hearing public comment about wanting an interchange, backed away from its initial proposal for a main line directional left-over with U-turns at the two intersections, Pendergraph said.

The cross-over project has not been completely abandoned, but set aside pending the outcome of the interchange study. It was done that way to safeguard money already earmarked for the cross-overs should the interchange not materialize.

The Mount Olive cross-over project would cost $650,000 and the one at Dudley $675,000.

As originally conceived, the two intersections would have been replaced by left-overs with U-turns on U.S. 117 about 1,000 feet north and south of both intersections -- traffic on the two roads would no longer be able to directly cross U.S. 117.

Left-turn lanes, separated from the intersection by traffic islands, would funnel left-turning traffic on U.S. 117 at both intersections. Traffic islands and signs would direct traffic flow.

The change would mean, for example, that traffic traveling east on Country Club Road would have to turn right on U.S. 117 South, then make a U-turn back onto U.S. 117 North and back to Country Club Road to turn right toward Dudley.

Bulb-outs would be added across U.S. 117 from the U-turn lanes. Bulb-outs are semi-circular indentions and would provide enough space so that even larger vehicles, such as tractor-trailers, would be able to make the U-turns safely.

A 2009 fatality at the Country Club Road intersection where a vehicle on Country Club Road pulled into the path of a vehicle on U.S. 117 South sparked the state's look at the safety improvements.