Junction with U.S. 70 can be troublesome to negotiate

Ricardo Charris isn’t seeing red. And, he thinks that’s a problem.

The Carolina Pines resident exits his neighborhood daily onto U.S. 70. He’s done it safely so far, but he’s seen others who haven’t been so successful.

He wants to see a traffic light at the intersection that the N.C. Department of Transportation changed two years ago in an effort to make it safer.

“They probably need a light,” said Charris, who has lived in the neighborhood for about six months. “I have seen a few accidents since I have been here already. In the last six months I have seen at least two or three accidents. It’s not too bad when it’s not rush hour, but at rushing time, you have got to pay a lot of attention, both ways.”

On a routine morning, eastbound drivers on U.S. 70 are headed to nearby Cherry Point – sometimes quickly – while Carolina Pines residents are trying to access the highway to go to work or school. In the afternoon and evenings, the schedule reverses itself.

“A light would do better,” said Carolina Pines resident Jesus Meno. “That’s the best solution, and if they don’t they are going to have more accidents. That’s what they are going to have to deal with.

“It’s bad. It’s really bad up there. It’s unsafe. Nobody wants to give each other the right-of-way. Ever since they built that road up there, it’s been bad because everybody is in a hurry and nobody wants to give each other a chance. Ever since they did that (deceleration lane shift), it’s been a lot of accidents.”

In 2013, the DOT considered putting a superstreet intersection at the site in response to crashes. The configuration would have prevented vehicles exiting Carolina Pines Boulevard from making left turns onto eastbound U.S. 70. Many residents objected to the plan and DOT listened, using a less expensive alternative by extending and shifting a deceleration lane for westbound traffic entering Carolina Pines Boulevard in an effort to improve visibility for drivers exiting the neighborhood.

The $217,000 project was completed in the summer of 2014.

In December alone, there were four crashes at the intersection. Though none resulted in fatalities, vehicles were damaged, costing thousands of dollars.

For its part, the DOT has no immediate plans to make any other changes to intersection as it continues to monitor and collect information about the junction.

“Normally we would look at three years of after-data in order to get a robust feeling of the performance,” said Brian Mayhew, traffic safety systems engineer with the DOT.

Even if changes are made, a traffic light won’t be part of the equation. During public meetings on the intersection late in 2013, DOT staffers said a traffic light on the 55 mph highway would lead to more rear-end collisions of drivers on U.S. 70, and in the end, would not result in improved safety.

DOT reported 23 crashes involving 43 vehicles at the intersection from 2007 to 2012, resulting in one death, eight injuries and $142,150 in property damage.

According to statistics provided by Shawn Troy, of the DOT Division of Mobility and Safety, there have been 13 crashes at the intersection since it was redesigned. Six of those crashes resulted in 13 injuries. Property damage in those 13 crashes totaled $66,950.

Haywood Daughtry, eastern region mobility and safety field operations engineer with DOT, said those numbers don’t show a significant increase in the rate of crashes at the intersection.

“The thing is, if there has been an increase in crashes, it’s something that we might look at, but at this point there is no plan to go forward with the larger project that was presented to the public back in October of 2013,” Daughtry said. “As of right now, there is no plan in place to do any additional work. However, if a dramatic increase of crashes is observed at any location, of course we would want to try to mitigate those problems or at least mitigate the causes of those crashes so it’s not just Carolina Pines. That would be true for any location.”

The superstreet configuration is designed to prevent T-bone-type crashes that often result in serious injuries, and in some cases, fatalities. One such intersection on U.S. 70 at Mason Town Road and Cannon Boulevard in Newport prevents vehicles from crossing four lanes of busy highway traffic.

“If you can’t go straight across traffic, then you are not going to run out in front of somebody accidentally,” said Jeff Cabaniss, division planning engineer for DOT. “If you limit people’s choices, you limit the number of mistakes that people can make. If you do that, over time you will improve safety because people have less mistakes they can make. Drivers make mistakes, so if you can limit their movements, then you inherently make it safer over time.”

The experimental improvements at U.S. 70 and Carolina Pines Boulevard are part of a spot safety project that the DOT undertakes widely across the state at troublesome intersections, Cabaniss said.

“They are graded on a benefit/cost and there is not a whole lot of money for the area, so the worst ones get graded and if they get approved for funding, then the funding can come the next quarter,” he said. “It depends on the size of the project, the complexity of it, utilities, right of way. I would say at the earliest, it would probably be six to eight months and it could be much longer before you are able to let it to contract. If it is something small, it doesn’t take that much, but a larger project would take much longer to plan, move utilities and get right of way.”

In October of 2014, when the DOT received comments regarding the intersection, the cost of the improvements that were made was estimated at $130,000. The estimated cost of the superstreet would have been more than $950,000.

“You see accidents all the time there,” said resident David Tivnan, who’s not in favor of a traffic light but agrees that the intersection is unsafe. “ … What would have been better would be an overpass. What good does that do when people are going to run the light? Just as bad as having a turn lane with an open intersection doing 75 miles an hour. A light’s not going to do any good, but an overpass is safe.”

Jessica Swiercinsky is a resident of nearby Falcon Bridge but stops at a convenience store off U.S. 70 at Carolina Pines Boulevard to fill her car with gas. She thinks the issue goes beyond just the intersection at Carolina Pines.

“I don’t think any of the intersections up and down 70 are safe at all,” she said. “There’s people who don’t pay attention. I have seen so many accidents up and down 70.

“I would like for them to look at it some more. I would like to see at least two more traffic lights on 70 for the people who live in these residential areas to get out onto the highway.”