A plan to fix one intersection has led to complications at two others.
Havelock residents and officials voiced varied opinions to the N.C. Department of Transportation at a workshop on the Slocum interchange Tuesday at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
Havelock has spent years trying to come up with a solution to prevent traffic backups and collisions at U.S. 70 and Slocum Road at Cherry Point’s back gate.
The DOT is fine-tuning a design that includes an elevated flyover from eastbound U.S. 70 that crosses over westbound U.S. 70 to Slocum Road, and Tuesday’s meeting was to gather input from residents on the project.
While most residents are supportive of the flyover concept, other aspects of the plan are causing concern.
Chief among them is the proposed redesign of the intersection of U.S. 70 and Pine Grove Road, which serves residents of the Tucker Creek and Hickman Hills subdivisions. Currently, the traffic signal allows drivers to go right, left or straight from any direction. However, DOT proposes to eliminate left turns at the traffic signal as well as forbid drivers from moving straight across the intersection.
Instead, eastbound drivers wanting to go to Tucker Creek will have to drive past the current intersection and make a U-turn onto westbound U.S. 70 at a new signaled crossing to be constructed between Tucker Creek and MacDonald Downs. Drivers from Havelock wanting to turn left into Hickman Hills would also have to drive past the intersection and make a U-turn onto eastbound U.S. 70 to access the neighborhood.
Residents in Tucker Creek and Hickman Hills would also no longer be able to drive straight across the intersection. A Hickman Hills resident driving a student to Tucker Creek Middle School, for example, would have to turn right out of the subdivision and then make a U-turn at the new crossing onto U.S. 70 West and then turn right into the subdivision.
Matthew Potter, DOT project planning engineer, said the changes would make for a safer intersection while improving traffic flow on U.S. 70, but local residents complained that their neighborhoods were being cut off.
"My main issue is that it’s jamming us up, blocking us in where we’ve been coming out for years and we want it to stay like it is," Hickman Hills resident Rita Ferguson said. "On the base, it’s fine, but at Hickman Hills, they’ve never had problems, so why do you have to mess with something that’s already good. Don’t need no fixes. It’s already fixed.
"Leave Hickman Hills the way it is because we haven’t had but one accident. I’ve been there 65 years, and we haven’t ever had another one, so let it stay the way it is. If you don’t, you’re going to have trouble with God."
DOT engineers used forecasts of future traffic on U.S. 70 to help them arrive at the superstreet approach to the design of the Tucker Creek-Hickman Hills intersection.
Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders is also a resident of Tucker Creek, and he also complained about the proposed changes.
"They told us that this was a design for 2040 traffic," he said. "Why can’t there be signalization at Tucker Creek? They’re going from six functions down to two functions. It would seem to me that they should change it to four functions or leave it at six until such time as all these cars that they say are going to be here in 2040 get here. Then maybe you need to make those changes.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen in 27 years. They don’t either. I understand that when they build they have to build for the future, but it would seem that for the interim a simple thing such as allowing full movement at that intersection could remain the way it is."
Sanders and the Board of Commissioners had a closed door meeting with DOT engineers to air their concerns prior to the public meeting Tuesday.
"I think the Hickman Hills area is getting a raw deal right off the top being forced to go one direction and do U-turns to go the opposite direction," Commissioner Will Lewis said. "It’s going to be very difficult trying to maneuver through the city."
Emergency traffic from the West End Fire Station would be able to cross through the intersection, but commissioners expressed concern that traffic stacking up from Tucker Creek and the nearby MacDonald Downs subdivision could block emergency vehicles.
The plan also calls for the closure of the existing entrance and exit from the MacDonald Downs subdivision on U.S. 70. The current exit is located near where a new exit for base traffic is to be built.
DOT officials have said that traffic would be accelerating onto the highway and that would be a hazard for vehicles entering or exiting MacDonald Downs. MacDonald Downs traffic would have to access U.S. 70 with construction of a new road, the Marsha’s Way Connector, that would link with Pine Grove Road near the current traffic signal.
Sanders said he wanted DOT to allow right turns in and out of the subdivision or perhaps extend the service road from Tucker Creek to the subdivision.
DOT officials said extending the service road would require the U.S. Forest Service to give up or trade away a historic plot of land that was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
Jeff Weber, a base worker who has lived in MacDonald Downs for 13 years, said he would be willing to drive the extra bit to access his neighborhood.
"If you’re going to close off that entrance exit from MacDonald Downs, sure, I would like it to stay open," he said. "I would like to have a light there, but it’s too close to the other one. That’s no big deal. If I have to go down and take a left, it’s not going to cost me a lot."
Weber’s issue is with the project itself, which is estimated to cost $20.5 million.
"This whole project makes no sense," he said. "I think it’s a solution in search of a problem. The problem that they say they want to fix over and over again in everything they’ve put out is congestion on 70, and 70 is not congested. It’s one lane on 70 that turns left in the morning, five days a week, maybe for an hour, if it’s a bad day. Otherwise there’s one lane going in and one lane going out of Havelock that is never, ever backed up, so traffic continues to flow no matter what, yet they’re going to spend $23 million plus, because it will never come in on budget to create a situation that all it will do is take the traffic that is sitting out in the left-hand turning lane in the morning, and move it out to an overpass. And it will still be the same congestion. It will have the same amount of cars and have the same backup."
Weber said the traffic flow issue could be corrected with minor modifications to the traffic lights.
"There are so many other ways to fix this," he said. "Look at the light at Walmart. You don’t have many accidents there. You’ve probably got about the same amount of traffic there as you do going in and off base and that’s all done by timing the light. Having a green arrow instead of a flashing yellow."
Chuck Barnard said he thinks the project would work and that traffic will flow well despite complaints by others.
"I don’t have any fault with anything they’ve done with any of the intersections and I think that very little people are going to be inconvenienced by going across from Tucker Creek to Hickman Hills or Hickman Hills to Tucker Creek," Barnard said. "People don’t go straight across. I don’t think it’s going to bother anybody. I think that it’s going to work and it’s been a long-time coming."
Some asked why the state would change the Tucker Creek-Hickman Hills signal when traffic is going to decrease in the area when the planned U.S. 70 bypass is constructed in 2015.
"You can’t make plans on something, to route traffic and that around, on a proposal of a bypass somewhere down the road that’s going to eliminate that traffic," Barnard said. "You have to take care of traffic today, not 10 years down the road if the bypass comes in. This bypass has been going on for 20 years now."
Jackie Attaway said she wished the DOT would listen to what Havelock was saying.
"I just feel like that anytime that DOT does anything through Havelock, they disregard all of the ideas that the people of Havelock have," she said. "We just become prisoners in Havelock. They are only worried about people getting through Havelock to whatever their destination is from Raleigh and not for the people of Havelock for their convenience to get around."
"They’re going to do what they plan to do and we don’t have any control over it," longtime resident Jim Muse said. "We can come express our views, but that’s it. I have a very negative feeling about it, very negative."
Commissioner Karen Lewis thought the same thing.
"I think that they’re going to do what they want to do without too much regards to us," she said. "They say they’re going to listen but I don’t think it’s going to make any difference whatsoever. I would like to see them listen to what the citizens of Havelock have to say and give them a little bit of leeway and freedom to move about the city safely."
Potter said that the state is planning to purchase the right of way in early 2014 and the project could begin in the summer of 2015. He said the project could take up to two years to complete.
Potter said the state would pay for the construction of the Marsha’s Way Connector and associated sidewalks along the road.
"The idea here is to really keep these streets as a neighborhood street, so you’re going to have sidewalks connecting MacDonald Downs to the middle school and both communities will be connected for pedestrians and bicycle traffic as well," Potter said. "Our ultimate goal is to really make this a neighborhood feel to our design, which, in the long run we hope will benefit the communities giving them better and safer access in and out of the communities. I know it’s more convenient to have direct access to U.S. 70, but as traffic grows it’s not always the safest thing for us to allow."
The DOT is still accepting comments on the proposal. Those interested can contact Potter at 919-707-6036 or send written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.