Homeowners in Carolina Pines gave an earful to N.C. Department of Transportation officials making proposals for traffic changes during a meeting last week.
While DOT officials took some of what they had to say under consideration, they wouldn’t give in on the one thing most of the 90 or so attendees wanted — a traffic light.
The state wants to redesign two of the three intersections along U.S. 70 that access the neighborhood, including major changes at Carolina Pines Boulevard where residents would no longer be allowed to make left turns to access eastbound lanes to go to Havelock.
Dwayne Alligood, DOT district engineer, said the changes were needed to curtail crashes at the main intersection of the development where more than 500 houses are located.
Alligood told the group at the Township Six Fire Department that a traffic light in what he called a rural area would increase the number of crashes because drivers along U.S. 70 would not be used to seeing a signal in the area.
"We are very confident that the pattern we are proposing will be much safer than what you have out there right now," Alligood said. "The people that are getting hit are the people from Carolina Pines when they are pulling out."
The state has proposed to prohibit left turns from Carolina Pines Boulevard onto eastbound U.S. 70. At the same intersection, they propose to broaden the deceleration lane from westbound U.S. 70 turning into Carolina Pines, allowing drivers exiting Carolina Pines better visibility. Left turns from U.S. 70 East into the neighborhood would still be permitted.
Drivers wanting to head east on U.S. 70 can either turn right at Carolina Pines and make a U-turn, use the service road to access a crossing just west of the main entrance, or use a service road and use a redesigned crossing just east of the main entrance where left turns would be permitted into an acceleration lane that is to be built.
"They are just shifting the problem to a new intersection," said resident Joe Sesco. "It’s not over. I think they’re listening. I’m not sure anything’s going to be done. At least we had the opportunity to voice an opinion.
"I don’t think you’re going to be able to satisfy the people with the current plan even with alterations. I think most people would prefer a light out here and I don’t think the Department of Transportation is going to see that through in any way."
Residents peppered DOT officials about why others areas such as Tucker Creek in Havelock and Carolina Colours and Taberna in New Bern have traffic signals and Carolina Pines doesn’t. Some argued that the lack of a signal was to appease tourists heading to the beach rather than looking out for the welfare of local residents.
DOT officials pointed to redesigned intersections along U.S. 70 in Newport, where crashes have been reduced without the addition of traffic signals.
"I think DOT came in and already had some ideas," resident Stu Collins said. "Hopefully they’ll listen to our ideas and go back and come up with an agreeable plan that suits everybody. Saving lives is one of the bigger things to do and that’s what’s going to win out here. I think they need to listen to the residents here and make it work for us and not worry about everybody else."
Resident Leroy Evans said he wished fewer people had attended the meeting.
"Too many people, too many ideas, too many thoughts," he said. "I think it should have been consolidated down to half the people like the one gentleman recommended. There would have been a better exchange I think."
Teresita Prior thought the meeting was productive.
"They’re trying to understand everybody and they’re considering all options," she said. "They said that even though the project is there already, they still have the option to change it according to the suggestions of the people."
N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) attended the meeting and liked a compromise in which the only change would be to adjust the right-hand turn lane into Carolina Pines Boulevard, allowing for better visibility of exiting residents.
"I don’t think their solution is the best one," he said. "I think just moving that turning lane in so they can turn into Carolina Pines is the best solution. As long as people can see to the left, which is something that they can’t do now, I think that will solve the problem.
"I’d like to think that the DOT is listening to the people who are going to be affected by this. The bottom line is that the decision hasn’t been made yet, so hopefully they’ll walk out of here with some ideas and moving that turning lane is the cheapest, quickest, most effective idea of them all."
Alligood said it doesn’t take much time to change the state’s plans.
"We can change this at any point as long as it addresses the crash problem," he said.
Another meeting will be called when the next set of plans have been drafted, Alligood said.
According to a DOT survey, 23 crashes occurred at the intersection of Carolina Pines Boulevard and U.S. 70 from 2007 through 2012. One person was killed and eight others injured. Of the 23 crashes, 14 involved drivers trying to cross U.S. 70 West.
The 23 crashes have involved 43 vehicles causing an estimated $142,150 in property damage.
The project is estimated at $965,000. Alligood said it is not connected to the proposed U.S. 70 bypass of Havelock or a proposed recreation park in the area but was prompted by a standard review that exposed the main intersection as a high crash location.
Construction could begin in August and completed in about two months, Alligood said.