Here we go again.
The N.C. Department of Transportation shared some of its preliminary designs of the proposed Slocum Road-U.S. 70 interchange with Havelock leaders last week, and those designs should cause city residents to be concerned.
Despite the overwhelming disapproval of residents about the East Main Street median project, DOT went forward with the project anyway, and now a simple drive across town has turned into a U-turn-filled journey that can take residents a mile out of their way to reach their destinations.
Well, if you hate the median, you’ll hate the proposed interchange plans.
The biggest issue is the impact on residents of Tucker Creek, MacDonald Downs and Hickman Hills. For some reason, DOT engineers feel changes are needed to a perfectly good and functioning traffic signal where U.S. 70 separates Tucker Creek and Hickman Hills.
Currently, the traffic signal allows drivers traveling from any direction to go in any direction they desire — straight, left or right.
According to preliminary plans DOT presented last week, most of these turns will be restricted. Drivers coming out of Tucker Creek would be able to turn left or right but would be prevented from driving straight across the highway.
It’s worst for residents of Hickman Hills. For them to head east on U.S. 70 toward Havelock — currently a simple right turn onto the highway — they would have to wait on the signal to change, make a left turn, go west on the highway a few hundred yards, and then make a U-turn to head back east at a new crossing to be constructed.
Residents heading east on U.S. 70 wishing to turn left into Tucker Creek won’t be able to do so at the traffic signal as they can currently. Instead, they will have to drive past the entrance to their neighborhood and make a U-turn at a new crossing that is to be constructed a few hundred yards down the highway.
Hickman Hills residents would have to do the same thing to enter their neighborhood from the opposite side of the highway.
We have questioned DOT on its designs and spending in the past, but this proposal goes beyond anything that makes sense.
The Tucker Creek traffic signal is not a problem for residents and never has been. It allows free movement of traffic safely in all directions.
Instead, DOT wants to make local residents drive out of what is a normal traffic pattern and force them to make left turns and U-turns into speeding traffic along U.S. 70. Not to mention they will have to go out of their ways to access their own neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, MacDonald Downs residents would no longer have direct access to U.S. 70 but would have to use a new road that is to be built that links with Tucker Creek.
We understand that the plans are preliminary, and Matthew Potter, DOT’s project development engineer, told us that the plans could very well change before they are presented to the public, possibly at a hearing in June.
We’re not completely sold on the need for the flyover interchange anyway, a project that is estimated to cost taxpayers $20.5 million. Granted the Slocum-U.S. 70 intersection has been the site of some bad crashes, but we believe other changes can be done to make the intersection safer. A reduction in speed limit can give drivers more time to react, and warning signs placed before the intersection can tell drivers when the light is about to change. We believe the flashing caution turn arrows installed last fall have already helped reduce wrecks in the area.
After all, the intersection itself is not the cause of crashes. Drivers making poor decisions at the intersection have been the cause. The National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a few years back noted that driver error was the primary cause of 90 percent of major crashes across the country.
So now the state wants to spend $20.5 million in taxpayer money, disrupt normal traffic patterns, change a perfectly good and safe traffic light, and force residents to make U-turns and drive in different directions to access their neighborhoods.
Instead, it should be DOT that heads in a different direction and makes a U-turn with these proposed plans.