Mount Airy officials have agreed to hold a public hearing on possible improvements to a “confusing” intersection in town, but not all of them want to be part of the ride.
The city Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday night to give citizens a chance to make suggestions about what might be done regarding the interchange where three streets converge, North South, West Lebanon and Grace.
It presents motorists with an unorthodox traffic arrangement that requires those heading north on North South Street to dogleg around a building to reach a traffic light to access West Lebanon or Grace.
Conversely, those coming from Grace can’t travel directly across West Lebanon to North South Street, but must turn right on West Lebanon and then an almost-immediate left on North South.
“I do think it’s confusing,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said during Thursday’s night’s meeting regarding the issue he had asked to be placed on the agenda for discussion. He said this is especially so for visitors to Mount Airy. “It is on a main road.”
Yokeley explained that he was concerned about the fact the intersection has been languishing on a list of future N.C. Department of Transportation projects for at least seven years. He surmised that the site wouldn’t be on such a list if it were not deemed important by someone within the DOT ranks.
If an improvement project is not a true priority, it should be taken off the transportation agency’s list, Yokeley believes. He said a recent meeting between city and DOT representatives was left with an invitation to Mount Airy to devise a plan to present to that agency.
“I really would like to see some public input,” Yokeley said, along with study devoted to the intersection.
“It’s going to really affect the high school,” he added, especially at peak traffic times including football games. “It’s also going to affect Veterans Park.” Both it and Mount Airy High School are located a short distance away on West Lebanon Street and North South Street, respectively.
Yokeley said he hopes input from the public and city officials’ ideas will result in a consensus among everyone in the city.
“I think it could be something very simple,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of a solution.
“I do think we need some public input on that,” said Mayor David Rowe, who has devised a couple of proposals himself.
While the board voted to hold the public hearing, the 3-2 decision was accompanied by criticism from the dissenters to leave the intersection as it is now.
“I don’t see how it’s going to be beneficial by changing anything,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley, who was joined in the opposition by the board’s Shirley Brinkley.
“I would vote to take it off the DOT’s list and leave it like it is,” Cawley added.
He also argued that holding a public hearing sends a message that the city is bound to take some action. “Does that not state our intent to do something?”
Brinkley, meanwhile, questioned the protocol of having traffic patterns guided by someone other than experts.
“I’m a little puzzled,” she said, “I thought the DOT engineers have the expertise to do this.” Brinkley said she thinks traffic runs smoothly at the intersection in its present state.
Cawley also seemed skeptical about the long view of Yokeley’s interest in the street issue, recalling the latter’s earlier support for a controversial traffic roundabout in another part of Mount Airy which never materialized.
“When I saw it on the agenda,” Cawley said of the North South/West Lebanon intersection issue, “I knew we were going to be talking about a roundabout.”
Similar to the earlier roundabout matter, the present situation also involves a building some might like to see removed, which requires the traffic dogleg.
“And I don’t even know who owns it,” Cawley said of that structure.
He said he would like to see officials agree that they will not be taking anyone’s property, which hearkened back to a redevelopment plan linked to the roundabout in which eminent domain was a concern.
Yokeley acknowledged Thursday night that he had heard mention of “the dreaded roundabout” for the North South/West Lebanon site, but did not elaborate.
“What fun we have,” Mayor David Rowe joked at the end of the discussion.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.