After getting a preliminary peek Thursday at proposed traffic changes for a busy stretch of U.S. 601 in Mount Airy, some local residents applauded the plan while others say it’s not on the right track.
The public had a chance then to learn about the “superstreet” or “synchronized street” concept eyed by the N.C. Department of Transportation for the stretch of U.S. 52 extending south from the U.S. 52 intersection to Forrest Drive.
A three-hour informational session was held at Reeves Community Thursday afternoon by representatives of the DOT and Kimley-Horn, a planning and design engineering firm working with the project.
The Kids Room on the lower level of the community center was filled with activity as local residents viewed maps set up around the room and talked with the DOT team and consultants about what’s planned for the roadway.
A flurry of business growth along the U.S. 601 corridor has made it one of the most-well-travelled streets in the area — and also one of the most dangerous.
State officials say the crash rate for that half-mile segment of what also is known as Rockford Street is nearly twice the state average. More than 240 collisions occurred there within a four-year period, including three fatalities and three pedestrian-related accidents.
Planners’ $6 million-plus solution represents what most people consider a radical departure from the present arrangement.
The proposed superstreet solution at this point, subject to change, would include a raised concrete median being installed in the center of the roadway in question to replace the present turn lane running its entire length. This is aimed at reducing opportunities for collisions, especially side-impact crashes.
Additionally, the proposal includes re-configuring turns at intersections to reduce the possibility of T-bone and head-on crashes. This would be accomplished by not allowing traffic approaching U.S. 601 from side streets to make left turns or across-the-highway movements.
Drivers instead would be forced to go right at those spots, then make U-turns at designated sites to reach desired locations in the opposite direction, explained Teresa Gresham, an engineer and project manager for Kimley-Horn based in Raleigh.
Gresham spoke Thursday at one of a trio of identical presentations to outline the plan to local residents during the three-hour program at RCC, when citizens also could mingle with the DOT and other representatives and ask questions.
About 50 people attended the first session, in which Gresham said studies have shown that superstreet configurations reduce fatal crashes by up to 70 percent and those involving injuries by 42 percent.
Superstreets also make the traffic flow more efficient and allow more vehicles to pass through due to fewer delays, namely those now caused by traffic lights at intersections along the way.
“You’re less likely to get stopped than you are today — there’s more ‘green time’ to go around,” Gresham said.
Sidewalks also are planned on both sides of the roadway along with pedestrian crossings at strategic locations.
Citizen reaction varied
While those viewing maps and learning about the plan Thursday seemed generally agreeable to what’s being proposed, not everyone was totally on board.
“I think it needs some tweaking,” city Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, said after listening to Gresham’s presentation and then talking with her one-on-one.
Along with being a city council member, Brinkley lives just off U.S. 601 and implied that a key segment of the motoring public had been overlooked in the planning process.
“I think large trucks, we need to consider their maneuvers,” she said of the problems the intersection restrictions and U-turn requirements might pose for big rigs that are essential to the local economy.
Two businessmen from the U.S. 601 corridor who attended Thursday’s community meeting reacted mostly favorably toward the proposal.
“I like the sidewalks — I like the pedestrian crossings,” said Mark Rogers of Rogers Realty & Auction Co. “I don’t like not allowing the T-crossings at the stoplights.”
Mark Golding, an excavation contractor whose business is based along U.S. 601, appreciates the plan’s potential to reduce accidents, including the presence of pedestrian crosswalks.
“I think it will help the safety issue,” Golding said of travel on the street. “The way it is now, it’s dangerous.”
Though saying the present plan needs tweaking, Commissioner Brinkley believes some major change is inevitable for U.S. 601.
“Something has to be done for safety — and we’ll have to get used to it,” she said.
The DOT and Kimley-Horn representatives who led Thursday’s program say the designs are not set in stone.
Changes, possibly including suggestions made by citizens, will be incorporated into detailed designs to be completed this summer.
Another public meeting will be held by the fall and final designs will be prepared in the summer of 2019. Right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin during Fiscal Year 2019 and construction, Fiscal Year 2020.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.