The proposed U.S. 70-Slocum Road Improvement Project is anything but an improvement. This project claims that its primary purpose is to "improve future traffic congestion" and "enhance access to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point."
In reality, this project is about reducing the backup of a single left-hand turn lane onto Slocum Road from U.S. 70, backup that at the most occurs for an hour or less and only five days a week, at the cost of over $20 million. At a time when our state is eliminating long-term unemployment benefits and is forced to pass continuing resolutions so they have more time to try and pass a budget that doesn’t run a deficit, how can they possibly justify a project that is neither needed nor wanted? A project that actually creates more problems than it solves.
According to representatives of the N.C. Department of Transportation that I spoke with at a citizens informal workshop on June 25, the congestion they are talking about results in a traffic rating of "F" for U.S. 70. In their words what this means is that there is an 80-second plus delay between movements of traffic.
What they fail to even consider is that this delay does not affect any of the traffic that flows past the Slocum Road intersection going into or leaving Havelock. It only deals with the traffic waiting to take a left turn onto Slocum Road, and that delay is not caused by any problems on U.S. 70 but instead is entirely caused by issues at the gate to the base or the light on the road on base after the gate. There is no backup on U.S. 70 unless the traffic backs up starting either at the gate or the intersection on base for the housing area and fills Slocum Road back to the intersection with U.S. 70. This project does not address any of those issues and so will not reduce any of the congestion they seem so concerned with.
At best, this project would move that congestion out of the left turn lane and put it onto a ramp where the delays, if anything, will actually be longer between movements. It would try to funnel three lanes of traffic (two on the ramp and one right turn flow lane) into the same one lane gate entrance and require the right turn lane to merge instead of having a light which allows them breaks to enter the traffic flow unopposed. It would also require the two lanes coming off the ramp to merge into that single lane at the same time. Common sense tells us this will actually result in longer delays as there will now be no breaks in the traffic flow and merging is slower than simply driving down a single lane.
On the even worse side, this project is setting up a potentially fatal situation for people who live in Hickman Hills. With the changes they propose to the lighted intersection at U.S. 70 and Pine Grove, there will now be no ability to go directly across 70, nor will there be any ability to make a left turn off of U.S. 70 onto Pine Grove or Hickman Hills. What this means is that anyone coming from Hickman Hills that wants to go to the Tucker Creek School will have to take a right, go down to an intersection that will have to be built and then make a U-Turn at a light, which will only operate for waiting traffic, and come back to Pine Grove and take a right.
Those same people leaving Tucker Creek or coming back from shopping or business in Havelock can no longer turn left at that intersection and go to Hickman Hills. Instead, they will have to go past that intersection and go down U.S. 70 to another intersection (which will have to be built) and make a U-turn, with NO light or turn arrow, in front of traffic coming towards Havelock on a long, open stretch of highway where they easily travel at 60 mph plus. According to the NCDOT, this is not a problem because it is "low volume." I hope they are willing to explain that to the family of someone who gets t-boned at 60 mph trying to bring their child home from school.
Dealing with the NCDOT representatives at this meeting was a frustrating experience to say the least. If I showed them that there really was not a congestion problem or that this project only moves the so-called congestion from one point to another, they then said this was for safety issues. If I mentioned that this project will create a far more dangerous safety issue, they said it was for future capacity. When I pointed out that if anything MCAS Cherry Point will be shrinking over the next 10 years plus, they insisted this was for "flow." When I pointed out that their flow doesn’t improve because they did not take into account the Walmart intersection or the disruption to this flow by people having to do U-turns to get to the Tucker Creek or MacDonald Downs subdivisions or the school, they went back to the congestion argument.
If they are really concerned about the congestion and safety of people turning onto Slocum Road, then there are two simple and very inexpensive ways to deal with it. One is to extend the left turn lane further along U.S. 70 towards Pine Grove so that the backup never spills out onto the left lane of U.S. 70. The other is to eliminate the flashing yellow turn arrow and adjust the timing at the Slocum Road intersection light so that it cycles more often and allows the traffic on U.S. 70 to turn more often. Neither of these suggestions was acceptable to the NCDOT — not because they wouldn’t work, but because they argue they are "less efficient" than the traffic flow their models say will result from this massive project.
Personally, I would be happy to deal with something a little "less efficient" than their model in order to save lives and money trying to correct a problem that doesn’t exist 23 hours a day five days a week or at all on weekends.
Jeff Weber, Havelock