A major improvement plan for the U.S. 601 corridor in Mount Airy has been re-evaluated — and tweaked in some cases — in response to concerns raised recently by local citizens.
That has included feedback received through public presentations on March 29 at Reeves Community Center, where residents could view maps and ask questions regarding changes proposed for U.S. 601 from south of the U.S. 52 intersection to Forrest Drive.
That half-mile segment, also known as Rockford Street, has a crash rate nearly twice the state average, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation. More than 240 collisions, plus pedestrian-related accidents, occurred there within one recent four-year period. Among them were three fatalities.
“For the Department of Transportation, this is a need that needs to be addressed,” consultant Teresa Gresham said last week when a solution being pursued by the DOT was updated during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
“What we are proposing is a variation of something called a superstreet,” also known as a synchronized street, explained Gresham, an engineer and project manager for Kimley-Horn, a Raleigh-based consulting firm assisting the state with the process.
That concept would prohibit left turns from side streets onto U.S. 601, forcing drivers instead to go right onto the main road and then make U-turns at designated “bulbs” to reach destinations in the opposite direction. Eliminating the left turns would reduce the potential contact points for traffic along the way by more than half, from 32 to 14.
In addition, a raised concrete median will divide the four-lane roadway — replacing a center lane where turns now can be made all along the way by traffic from opposite directions using the same space, sometimes resulting in crashes.
Since the superstreet plan was first announced last August, the public has embraced it for the most part, according to Gresham, including input at the March 29 informational session.
“What we heard from the public was mostly positive, or neutral,” the consultant said.
However, some concerns did emerge which have been addressed in the weeks since.
• Among those is one raised by Commissioner Shirley Brinkley involving tractor-trailers being able to make turns to reach industries or businesses in the U.S. 601 area which she said is vital to the local economy.
This will be ensured by providing multiple locations along U.S. 601 which will be spacious enough to allow big rigs to negotiate U-turns.
• Some criticism has emerged about whether sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks proposed in the plan are actually needed. However, planners’ response is that pedestrian traffic does exist along the route and needs to be protected in light of the accident data.
“A five-foot sidewalk is proposed on both sides,” Gresham said.
• The fact that no bicycle accommodations, such as special lanes, are included in the proposal is another concern cited. Decisions on including such “multi-modal” facilities have been coordinated with city officials. And information presented by Gresham last week indicates that bike improvements could be added later under a cost-share agreement between the DOT and city.
• Another concern is whether response times will be increased for Surry Emergency Medical Service ambulances based just off U.S. near Holiday Inn Express. Planners’ response is that most EMS vehicles are small enough to turn around at the many intersections and U-turn bulbs along the corridor.
Those units also will have the ability to go across the median in most locations, if needed.
• An alternate suggestion made is for Jersey left turns, or “jug handles” to pull drivers off U.S. 601 to make the U-turn movement. But planners say this could potentially impact more properties and businesses and increase traffic on side streets.
• Some issues have been raised about how the new configuration will impact specific businesses, including a new Starbucks, to which access could be limited along with an Advance Auto store nearby. “Addition of a ‘left-over’ at Mountain View Drive was considered,” according to information from Gresham, but not included due to the proximity of a U-turn lane bulb near Simmons Nissan and a left-turn lane onto Stewart Drive.
• There is also a concern about the proposed taking of property at Chick-fil-A to accommodate one of the U-turn spots. Planners have reacted by disclosing that efforts to minimize impacts to surrounding businesses will be pursued during final design.
• The Wendy’s fast-food restaurant near the U.S. 52/U.S. 601 intersection is another issue, including not allowing a cross-over there.
The proposed design along U.S. 601 in front of Wendy’s now calls for ending the median just south of the restaurant to accommodate dual left-turn lanes onto U.S. 52. This area will be striped with a double yellow line that should not be crossed to access Wendy’s from the U.S. 601 northbound direction. In the final design, the project team might extend the median to ensure drivers do not cross this line.
Motorists exiting Wendy’s also will not be able to turn left, Gresham said.
She defended the U.S. 601 plan now on the table, saying it will improve safety by reducing the “opportunities for vehicles to interact with each other” and make traffic flow more efficient.
Traffic signals will be synchronized as part of this project to allow for a more consistent flow and overall lower travel times.
Another public meeting on the plan will be held by the fall, with final designs to be prepared in the summer of 2019. Right-of-way acquisition is scheduled to begin during Fiscal Year 2019 and construction, Fiscal Year 2020.
City officer recognized
Also during last week’s commissioners meeting, a member of the Mount Airy Police Department, Sgt. Brendon Evans, was recognized for achieving the Advanced Law Enforcement Certification.
“This is the highest level of certification that the state offers,” Police Chief Dale Watson said of the designation awarded through the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission.
It is based on factors including training, education and experience, Watson said.
Evans has distinguished himself in multiple areas since joining the city police force in 2008 and being promoted to sergeant in 2015, the chief added.
He is a certified field sobriety instructor as well as a general instructor in criminal justice. Evans also is a traffic crash reconstructionist.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.