Big changes are coming down the pike for U.S. 601 in Mount Airy.
A public meeting planned Thursday will give the public a chance to learn about — and offer input on — the proposed plan.
It will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at Reeves Community Center, 113 S. Renfro St., by representatives of the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the planned “superstreet” improvement project along the major state route.
Thursday’s public meeting represents an opportunity for the DOT to present initial concepts of the proposal aimed at reducing crashes, increasing safety, enhancing pedestrian access and improving traffic flow along the roadway in question.
It will not involve one continuous session, but multiple identical ones held throughout the three-hour period to allow anyone to attend at different times suiting their schedules. Interested persons may come at any point during the hours of the meeting at its location in the Kids Room of Reeves Community Center.
Formal presentations on the changes eyed will be held at 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., with the schedule including time for DOT representatives to answer questions and listen to comments about the project from the public.
“People will have the opportunity to come in and out and get the same presentation,” explained Dean Ledbetter, senior planning engineer for the DOT’s Division 11, an eight-county area that includes Surry.
Ledbetter will be on hand Thursday along with design, engineering, traffic and other personnel.
“I’m going to say we’ll probably have 10 to 15 people,” he said Tuesday said of those who will present information and also gather it in the form of input from citizens.
Dangerous traffic situation
The section of U.S. 601 (Rockford Street) targeted for improvements runs south from its intersection with U.S. 52 (South Andy Griffith Parkway) to Forrest Drive (State Route 1365) in the vicinity of Walmart.
State officials say the crash rate along that half-mile segment of Rockford Street is nearly twice the state average. More than 240 crashes occurred on this stretch of U.S. 601 within a four-year period, including three fatalities and three pedestrian crashes.
Commercial growth along that corridor has led to huge increases in traffic in recent years which will only grow over time.
A 2010 study by the N.C. Department of Transportation showed that 25,000 vehicles per day passed along the section of U.S. 601 from the U.S. 52 intersection to Forrest Drive. That number is expected to reach 37,000 daily by 2040, which begs a solution to handle the additional volume and safety problems presented.
The DOT’s answer at present is the proposed “superstreet” concept that would involve a raised concrete median being installed in the center of the roadway to replace the turn lane now there.
A superstreet further improves safety by re-configuring turns at intersections and reducing the possibility of T-bone and head-on crashes. This is accomplished by re-directing left turns and across-the-highway movements from side streets by way of a right-turn out and then a U-turn at a safe location.
“It will be a combination,” Ledbetter said of the raised median and restrictions on turns proposed along the route.
The raised median alone would be a major safety improvement, according to the senior engineer.
“It would prevent some of those crossing-type movements” against oncoming traffic, Ledbetter said. “It would definitely prevent those crossing-type accidents.”
Sidewalks also are planned on both sides of the road.
Not set in stone
Ledbetter added Tuesday that the superstreet concept is what the DOT has identified as a solution to the U.S. 601 traffic woes, but it is open to other possible options suggested by the public which the state agency might have overlooked.
“Maybe people have ideas.”
Ledbetter said the DOT realizes that the stakeholders who rely on the highway daily have a say in changes affecting their ability to reach one destination from another. That includes businesses along the route to which access will be restricted.
There could be some who support the superstreet idea but believe more access points should be provided — or less, Ledbetter mentioned. The intent is to “strike a balance,” he said.
“This is not the final plan,” Ledbetter said of the opportunity for tweaks or improvements that will be incorporated as the design process continues. “It is not what it’s going to look like when all is said and done.”
Improved designs will be presented at a public meeting in the fall.
In addition to input at Thursday’s meeting, public comments may be submitted over the telephone, via mail or email until April 27. All comments received will be taken into consideration.
Ledbetter said efforts to engage the public about what’s occurring have included information on Thursday’s meeting being distributed along mail routes in the area affected.
Right-of-way acquisition needed for the project is slated for 2019, with the construction contract to be awarded in June 2020.
The proposed project has a price tag of more than $6 million.
Ledbetter can be contacted for more information at 801 Statesville Road, North Wilkesboro, NC, 28659; at (336) 903-9129; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.