Havelock officials questioned initial design plans for the U.S. 70-Slocum interchange during a meeting with N.C. Department of Transportation officials Tuesday in Havelock.
Though Havelock officials have supported the idea of the flyover interchange as a way to reduce wrecks at the traffic signal that leads to Cherry Point’s back gate, DOT plans include major changes that would affect residents in Tucker Creek, MacDonald Downs and Hickman Hills.
DOT officials presented two plans to Havelock officials, and in both, the Slocum Road-U.S. 70 interchange is essentially the same, with eastbound traffic on U.S. 70 accessing the base via an exit ramp and elevated bridge over U.S. 70 West. Westbound drivers on U.S. 70 would peel off on a single-lane access road that would connect with Slocum Road.
Drivers leaving the base on Slocum Road heading west would be directed along a new access road that would meet up with U.S. 70 near the MacDonald Downs entrance, which is scheduled to close. Eastbound drivers could turn left via the traffic light.
MacDonald Downs drivers would use a new access road called Marsha’s Way that would link with Pine Grove Road, which goes between Wells Wayside Furniture and the West End Fire Station.
"I’m just looking at the issues that are going to be causing the most heartburn for the city," Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said. "The fact that the only way in and out of MacDonald Downs is going to be down here at this traffic light is going to be difficult. If there was some way that we could extend the service road and allow traffic coming off the base to be able to make a right into MacDonald Downs, that would be helpful. The fact that every time they come out it’s going to add two miles to their trip is going to be a problem."
City officials also raised concerns with changes to traffic in Tucker Creek. One alternative presented Tuesday called for the closure of Sermons Boulevard and for traffic from Tucker Creek to be redirected to Marsha’s Way and the new Pine Grove Road. However, Matthew Potter, DOT project development engineer, said that those plans were not likely to happen and that Sermons Boulevard would likely continue to meet up with the service road as it does now.
Still, the plans call for changes at the traffic signal at Tucker Creek. Currently, the intersection has a six-phase traffic light permitting all movements — straight, left and right. However, the new "superstreet" configuration calls for a two-phase signal in which drivers would no longer be allowed to drive straight across U.S. 70 from either Tucker Creek or Hickman Hills. Only left turns would be allowed coming out of Hickman Hills. Those wanting to turn right to go toward Havelock would have to turn left on U.S. 70 West and make a U-turn to head back east.
Tucker Creek residents could turn left or right from Pine Grove Road at the traffic light.
Left turns from U.S. 70 East into Tucker Creek would no longer be permitted under the plan. Drivers would be forced to continue past the traffic signal and make a U-turn at a new crossing that would have a traffic light.
Likewise, left turns from U.S. 70 West into Hickman Hills would no longer be permitted. Instead, drivers would be forced to continue past the light to a new U-turn crossing that would not have a traffic signal.
Potter stressed that the plans are preliminary and that changes were possible before the plans are presented to the public, which is expected to take place at a June public hearing.
Neil Lassiter, DOT lead engineer, said the plans for the interchange and Tucker Creek were designed with the idea of keeping all drivers safe.
"We’re looking at the citizens of Havelock and we’re looking at the citizens of Eastern North Carolina and we’re trying to look at each of these problems," he said.
Construction on the project is expected to begin in 2015. The initial cost estimate for the project is $20.5 million.