Road design impacts projects

Published 11:04 am Tuesday, November 6, 2012

WINTON – As Hertford County officials move forward with building a new courthouse and county administrative office, one of the key issues is a difference of opinion with NCDOT on how vehicles will enter and exit the property.

That debate has waged for several months, a process even more critical now due to NCDOT currently engaged in a project that will widen US 158 between the Murfreesboro bypass and Winton.

DOT’s current design of the intersection leading into the property where the two new projects will be constructed closes off Parker’s Fishery Road as a “crossover.” That means traffic exiting the courthouse and wishing to access the eastbound lane of US 158 (traveling back towards Winton) would be required to instead travel a short distance on US 158 west (back towards Murfreesboro) to a u-turn area in order to access the eastbound lane.

That design concerns the county’s board of commissioners. They are of the opinion that the vehicular traffic entering and exiting the courthouse/administrative office will be increased to the point where they feel the need to leave the intersection open with a stop light. John Nance, an engineer with NCDOT, contacted Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer regarding that issue.

“Basically he said he was aware of the issue and told his engineers to take another look at that intersection,” Farmer said on Monday while providing his board colleagues with an update. “He said based on the courthouse being built on that corner, he thought the traffic pattern they had designed could handle it. However, after our discussion, he didn’t realize we were building a new county administrative building adjacent to the new courthouse nor did he know that the DA’s (District Attorney) office would be inside the new courthouse. He said with that knowledge that the intersection design may possibility be looked at again.”

A new design, however, would require a traffic study.

“That would include the number of total employees being moved out there plus an estimate of the number of people using the current courthouse on days when court is held,” Farmer said. “He said DOT can’t do that; someone will have to ask Ms. (Loria) Williams (the county manager) how many people that work in this building would be moved to the new building; someone would have to ask the DA the same thing concerning their employees and the court dates. DOT can count cars, but not people.”

Farmer said the results of a traffic study may change DOT’s opinion of the current design of the intersection.

“The only opportunity we have to change the design of that intersection is if we agreed to perform and pay for a traffic study,” Farmer noted. “If we don’t do a traffic study, then the intersection will be built as currently designed.”

Farmer said the Peanut Belt RPO may agree to help the county fund a traffic study. He added that Rivers Correction (a privately owned and operated prison located on Parker’s Fishery Road) may also have a vested interest in the design of the same intersection.

The cost of the traffic study is estimated at $8,000. Williams said after the meeting that this may be a low estimate based on the legwork associated with performing such a study.

“Plus we don’t know when the study could be performed,” Farmer added. “With the process already underway on widening US 158 here in our county, timing is of the essence. If we can’t have the study performed in a timely manner then we may wind up wasting money. DOT is moving forward right now as things are currently designed. And as we all know with the problems we had previously with the 11 and 11 intersection, it takes years to convince DOT that something isn’t working.”

Commissioner Howard Hunter III said he agreed with Farmer that the time was now to move forward with a traffic study.

“I’ve also asked our congressman, G.K. Butterfield, to help us,” Hunter said. “He said he would write a letter to the governor, conveying his support for how we, the commissioners, want this intersection designed. I also think we should ask for the support of our senator, Kay Hagan.”

“I think if we can show them (DOT) in black and white what we’re talking about, we may can get somewhere with this,” stated Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman. “We feel our plans for that intersection will be much safer than what DOT has designed. That’s our concern, the safety of our citizens. I have a problem with someone living in another area of the state telling us what’s best for us when they don’t frequent our area.”

“If we don’t do this study then we don’t have a chance to get the intersection changed,” said Commissioner Bill Mitchell. “I’m a strong believer that the current design needs to change.”

Commissioner Ronald Gatling motioned to give Williams the green light to proceed with having a traffic study performed. That motion was approved without objection.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the commissioners conducted an advertised public hearing regarding the financing of the two new facilities, a cost estimated at a combined $12,167,103. Adding in the interest ($6,914,973) over the life of the 20-year loan brings the total investment by the county to a shade over $19 million.

The public hearing was required by state General Statute, due to installment financing, prior to the county forwarding an application to the Local Government Commission for their approval.

As part of the application process, county officials are required to reveal what public funds will be used to repay the debt (annual payments of $954,104 beginning in 2015) on the projects. Topping that list was the quarter-cent sales tax the county implemented, by a majority decision of the voters, several years ago. That fund, which was earmarked for capital improvement projects, will cover approximately 50 percent of the annual debt service payments. The remaining funds will annually come from ad valorem taxes ($135,000 beginning in 2015), $100,000 set aside yearly in tax revenues, and $254,104 in capital reserve funds.

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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