Highway design impacts new courthouse

Published 10:59 am Friday, August 10, 2012

WINTON – As Hertford County officials move forward with plans to construct a new courthouse and county administrative building on the outskirts of Winton, improvements are in the works for US 158 between Winton and Murfreesboro.

That latter project has caused some concerns among county officials in regards to driveway access to the new judicial/office complex.

The design-build of the scheduled widening (two-to-four lanes) of US 158 in front of where the new courthouse will be constructed is already underway.

“Upon review of the design by myself, the Sheriff (Juan Vaughan) and local DOT officials, we are concerned on how the road is designed as it relates to what we think the increased traffic is going to be out there once the new courthouse is built,” Hertford County Manager Loria Williams told the local board of commissioners at their Aug. 6 meeting.

Williams said the increased number of vehicles accessing the property would not only be those conducting business or employed at the courthouse, but others as well.

“I don’t need to remind you that we’re also building our new county administrative office adjacent to the new courthouse, so that increases the traffic volume,” Williams noted. “Add to that the fact that the DA’s (District Attorney) office as well as the Child Enforcement Office will be located within the new courthouse.”

Williams said it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict what that traffic volume will be, especially on court days.

“The number of vehicles assessing and exiting the property will be quite significant on any given weekday,” Williams said. “They (DOT) have designed turn-arounds (where a vehicle has to travel in one certain direction before using a lane cut through the median to turn in the other direction) on 158 that are of great concern to me and others.”

In speaking with DOT Division One Resident Engineer Jerry Jennings, Williams said for local officials to get to the table to speak with DOT brass about her concerns, the county would have to present traffic count information for consideration of a possible change in the road’s design. She added that a traffic count study would also be needed if the county suggests to DOT that a stoplight would be beneficial at the main driveway entrance to the courthouse.

However, the cost of a traffic study falls on the county. Williams presented the commissioners with a proposal from SEPI Engineering & Construction, Inc. of Raleigh. For an $8,000 fee that firm will analyze traffic flow, during peak hours, at the intersections at or near the property where the new courthouse will be built as well as at the current courthouse and county office building in Winton.

Another option, according to Williams, is to use the services of the Rural Planning Association, a voluntary organization of representatives of the counties of Bertie, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton, the municipalities within those counties, and NCDOT.

“That may work out, but what really concerns me is the fact that we will not know what the flow of traffic will be once the new courthouse and county office opens out there,” Williams said. “They’ll have to be doing a lot of traffic counts in a lot of different places, namely right here on King and Taylor streets in Winton; the foot traffic at the DA and Child Enforcement office over in Ahoskie and the existing traffic out by the new courthouse site.”

Another concern for Williams is having the traffic count study performed quickly.

“DOT has said that the design of the (US 158) project is 98 percent complete,” Williams stressed. “We need to know which option we need to take in order to get this study done and in the hands of those making the decisions on the design of the road.”

Commissioner Howard Hunter III asked if the RPO would charge a fee to conduct the study.

“If there is one I would guess it would be minimal,” Williams answered.

Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer, a Hertford County representative on the RPO Board, said that group was scheduled to meet Aug. 9 and he could hopefully learn more about how they could assist in this traffic study.

“I say let’s find out what the RPO Board can do for us and move forward from there,” Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman suggested.

In the meantime, Williams recommended writing a letter to DOT to give them a heads-up of the county’s concern about the design of the road as it impacts the entrance to the new courthouse.

“This is something we can’t wait around on,” Williams said.

Commissioner Bill Mitchell suggested that county officials need to contact Senator Clark Jenkins, a Tarboro legislator who will represent Hertford County in a newly created district.

“If I can get a couple of you commissioners together with the interested parties, perhaps we can do this before our next meeting (Monday, Aug. 20),” Williams said.

“I’d like for him (Jenkins) to see the totality of what’s going on (with the new courthouse project),” said Freeman. “I’m sure he’s not up to speed on this project as it relates to the highway project and the new building project.”

Freeman said he would also like to see an up-to-date map regarding the changes DOT has made to the highway improvement project.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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