11/20/12 — Mount Olive traffic patterns to shift

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Mount Olive traffic patterns to shift

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 20, 2012 2:18 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Traffic patterns in and out of the town of Mount Olive, and even around it, could drastically change by 2040 should proposals in Mount Olive's comprehensive long-range transportation plan come to fruition.

However, some of those proposals would be affected by ongoing efforts to make the improvements necessary to have U.S. 117 designated as Interstate 795.

No project costs have been discussed, and there is no guarantee that any of the projects will actually be done.

A major concern among local residents has been access to an Interstate 795. Currently there are several access points along U.S. 117 into town, but most would be eliminated if the highway becomes an interstate.

The state Department of Transportation already is considering converting the U.S. 117 South and O'Berry Road intersection at Dudley into an interchange. The second part of that project would close the median at Country Club Road and U.S. 117 just north of town, thereby eliminating it as an access point.

But the town's comprehensive transportation planning committee not only wants to see an interchange there, but to extend Country Club Road east to the Old Mount Olive Highway. It also wants to add access ramps from the N.C. 55 bridge to the Old Mount Olive Highway.

Those projects could help handle heavy truck traffic, the committee members said.

The current interchange at U.S. 117 and N.C. 55 would remain, but the proposal calls for improvements there to aid traffic flow.

The proposal adds a new interchange just south of town by realigning Old Smith Chapel Road. A new section of road would extend Old Smith Chapel Road to County Road. The existing Old Smith Chapel Road intersection with U.S. 117, as well as the one at Lee's Country Club Road, would be closed off.

Another change would be extend Baker Chapel Church Road to U.S. 117-A with an overpass at U.S. 117.

The committee has suggested a service road to connect West Main Street with Old Smith Chapel Road on the west side of U.S. 117.

The plan also looks at possible bicycle routes, including connections to Goldsboro and possibly Warsaw, and a greenway along Indian Springs Road to the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

James Upchurch, the DOT planner who has been working with the committee, told members last week that the planning process has reached the point where the recommendations would be compiled.

Once a draft of the plan is ready it would first have to be adopted by the town and then the county, endorsed by the Eastern Carolina Rural Planning Organization and finally be considered for adoption by the state Board of Transportation.

Upchurch said he hopes to have feedback from the committee prior to its next meeting on Jan. 9 in order to finalize the plan at that time.

"After that, in February, we will need to start a 30-day public review to let our public be aware so that they can make comments about anything they want," he said. "Everything is on the table. Anything can be changed. In the month of March is when we start the adoptions.

"This way there is plenty of time for people to make comments and for the plan to change. We also want to get our decision makers comfortable with saying, 'This all makes sense.'"

Town Manager Charles Brown asked if the town board, as the first to adopt the plan, would have the plan in hand in time to review it before acting on it.

Upchurch said that would be best.

"They will not get it cold," he said. "As soon as we get the recommendations from this committee it can go direct to the board. They can begin to study it, cut it up and ask questions."

"We definitely want them to see it before it goes to public comment," said Patrick Flanagan of the Eastern Carolina Rural Planning Organization. "We want them to be able to answer questions that the public might come to them with. We will have a public drop-in session where people can come in and see it. So they (town commissioners) will definitely see it in January before we start."

Upchurch said the Rural Planning Organization normally takes the lead in public involvement. Also, Upchurch said he and others would be on hand at the public drop-in session to answer questions.

The session will be advertised, he said.

Committee members said that it also would be important to take the plan to Duplin County since U.S. 117 runs through the county as well. Duplin County officials are aware of the ongoing study and where it is at, Upchurch said.