Havelock commissioners have long lobbied for a solution to traffic issues at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Slocum Road at Cherry Point’s back gate.
They thought the answer to the problem was creation of a flyover interchange that would allow eastbound workers entering the base to efficiently transit over westbound traffic.
This was, and is, a solution on which commissioners, base officials and N.C. Department of Transportation engineers agree.
But DOT’s proposed rearrangement of traffic patterns associated with the interchange has been a source of disagreement ever since the state announced its design plans last year.
On Monday night during their board meeting, city commissioners again expressed displeasure with what they see as DOT’s apparent inflexibility on the design of the project.
Mayor Will Lewis cited correspondence between the city and the DOT and a Dec. 13 letter from the state “where they essentially said no to everything except one thing we asked.”
The city’s concerns include several key features of the DOT plan, including:
-- closure of the service road in front of Wells Wayside Furniture;
-- absence of a pedestrian walkway along Marsha’s Way, a new road to be constructed between the MacDonald Downs subdivision and Tucker Creek subdivision, and absence of a pedestrian access from MacDonald Downs to Walmart;
-- closure of the entrance to MacDonald Downs;
-- a controlled hazard light at Pine Grove Road for emergency vehicles from the West End Fire Station;
-- conversion of the U.S. 70/Pine Grove Road/Hickman Hill Loop Road intersection in front of Wells Wayside to a superstreet intersection that reduces the traffic pattern and requires motorists entering Hickman Hills and Tucker Creek to make U-turns rather than left turns at the current traffic signal.
The city expressed 11 points of concern with DOT’s plans in a June 25 letter and eventually whittled those to five in a July 15 letter. Of the five points of concern, the city appears to have received accommodation on only one — the hazard light for emergency vehicles at the fire station.
In its Dec. 13 letter, the DOT said it could accommodate the city’s request for pedestrian improvements along Marsha’s Way as long as the city paid for it and was responsible for its maintenance. The estimated 2,800-foot walkway could cost about $20,000. The state flatly declined the city’s proposal for pedestrian access from MacDonald Downs to Walmart.
The DOT said it is still attempting to decide about the Wells Wayside access issue based on the opinion of the property owner.
Concerning the MacDonald Downs entrance, the state is still holding firm to its proposal to close the existing access and funnel that traffic out via Marsha’s Way and Pine Grove Road.
Concerning Hickman Hills access, the state contends that “there will be sufficient gaps in U.S. 70 eastbound traffic flow to enable U-turns from a stop condition, as well as adequate sight distance for the travelers.”
“That’s their plan. They’re going to stick with it,” Commissioner Danny Walsh said.
Walsh said that the original intent of the entire project was to eliminate crashes at U.S. 70 and Slocum Road, but the future plan, he said, just moves the danger westward a few hundred yards.
“Instead of front-end collisions, you’re going to have rear-end collisions,” Walsh contended. “This whole system is totally wrong for the future. DOT is not right. DOT is wrong on this.”
City Manager Frank Bottorff called for an urgent meeting between city officials and DOT engineers.
“We need to do a lot of legwork in advance so that we’re all talking on the same page and we all have it figured out in advance,” Walsh said.
Commissioners said that the city needed to get help from county, state and federal elected officials.
Lewis said the city needed to tread lightly. After all, congressional representatives had a hand in helping get the project off the ground after city officials expressed concern over vehicle crashes and frequent traffic backups during rush hours, he said.
“The talk’s been thrown around that we’ll just kill the project and I don’t think for political capital, it’s not that simple,” he said. “So just to throw that in everybody’s mind, it’s a decision we’re going to have to think long and hard about if we can’t mitigate everything that we want. We certainly don’t want to make our citizens’ lives harder, but at the same time we don’t want to destroy relationships that have been built over the last several years.”
The $20.5 million project is slated to start in December with right-of-way acquisition. Construction is set for December of 2015.
In other business Monday night, the board:
-- decided against moving forward with a pay and classification study in lieu of having the city manager make proposed adjustments to pay scales and bring forward the proposals to the board;
-- asked Bottorff and City Planner Katrina Marshall to make proposals for changes to city rules concerning maintenance of developed and undeveloped property. In a 45-minute discussion, the board considered possible new regulations that could require property owners to have perimeter buffers clear of unmaintained growth of grass and weeds. The board also discussed ways to use city rules to require property owners to clear growth from front yard/street-side ditches. The discussion took place based on a citizen complaint about the maintenance of undeveloped property in her neighborhood that is deemed to be in a “natural” state and could violate current regulations. The board plans to revisit the matter at a future meeting.