‘Super streets’ unwelcomed

Published 7:58 am Monday, March 11, 2013

GATESVILLE – If you want something accomplished, start at the top.

The Gates County Board of Commissioners will seek to meet with North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and possibly NC Transportation Secretary Tony Tata in an effort to have the design changed to the US 13/158 project currently under construction.

In particular, county leaders will ask for a stoplight to be installed at the NC 137/US 13 intersection. NCDOT’s current design for that intersection is not to have a crossover, meaning direct access north and south on US 13 as well as onto Sand Banks Road will not be allowed. Instead, DOT is designing “super streets” near that location….u-turn lanes installed approximately 800 feet north and south of the intersection.

The request for the design change is coming from the citizens of the Eure community as well as members of the Eure Volunteer Fire Department. A petition, calling for a stoplight at the NC 137 intersection, bearing hundreds of names, was presented to the commissioners at their Wednesday meeting.

John Blake Parker of Eure asked the commissioners to join in the effort to have the NC 137 intersection redesigned and include a stoplight to allow for direct crossover there.  He, along with other residents of the Eure community, has met with Commissioner Johnny Hora (the Eure District representative on the board) and Gates County Manager Jon Mendenhall.

“I’ve been around here for 75 years. All you have to do is go down there (NC 137 intersection) and watch the amount of traffic going through there every day,” Parker said. “Some have told me they have to wait five to ten minutes to get on the (US 13) highway because of all the traffic. Now think about how it’s going to be to have to turn and go down, turn around and come back.

“A stoplight can take care of that,” Parker continued. “These new style stoplights will help. They’ll stay green (for the US 13 traffic) and only turn when a car on NC 137 comes up to the intersection and triggers that light to turn. We need to go through the channels and get to those who can make a decision to change this. This petition lets you know that these citizens do not agree with the way the road is now designed.”

“This is a big concern to all the citizens of Eure,” said Hora. “It’s been talked about a lot in my community.”

Hora noted the large number of trucks (18-wheelers) that use NC 137 to access lumber related businesses in Gates County as well as hauling timber products to locations outside of the county and heavily use NC 137 and US 13 as their main routes.

“When this road improvement project for US 13 was first presented, I wasn’t sold on the super street design,” Hora said, adding that he favored a stoplight at the NC 137 intersection. “Go on the US 158 bypass (a four-lane highway) in Murfreesboro and you’ll see several stoplights. Same for US 17 in Pasquotank County. I don’t see what the big deal is of putting a stoplight there (NC 137 intersection).”

Hora said according to NCDOT’s numbers, 5,700 vehicles per day use US 13/158 from the Winton bridge to NC 137.

“There are a lot of people in Gates County that work in Ahoskie or Hertford County; NC 137 is busy with that traffic,” he noted. “This (current) design presents a safety problem to me. I don’t like having to first turn north to then go south. That’s an inconvenience to the citizens of GatesCounty.”

He continued, “I think a stoplight is a much better design. I’d like to see this board become involved in this issue. Look at this petition, there’s a lot of support for a stoplight; there are names on this petition from those living outside GatesCounty who use NC 137 as well.”

Earl Rountree was one GatesCounty citizen to have worked towards getting a stoplight at that intersection before the first shovel of dirt was turned last year on the US 13 improvement project – one that will widen, to four lanes, 7+ miles of that road between Winton and Tar Heel BBQ.

“(Gates County Commissioner) Kenny (Jernigan), myself and others discussed this several years ago,” Rountree said. “Having a stoplight there at 137 was one of the things we discussed. DOT didn’t want to talk about that. Personally I feel it’s going to be a hard thing to get people off 137 safely without a stoplight.”

Rountree mentioned that with a new governor and new transportation secretary, perhaps they would be more receptive to a local contingent going to Raleigh and asking for a design change for the intersection.

“If the people of GatesCounty want a stoplight, we’ve got to fight for it; we’ve got to make our intentions known,” Rountree said.

Retired North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Sam Armstead, a Gates County citizen, also supported a change for the NC 137 intersection. He mentioned a DOT study performed several years ago that dealt with a possible NC 137 bypass around Gatesville.

“That study said it was too dangerous for large trucks to turn off of 137 here in Gatesville, and that’s only a 20 mph speed zone,” Armstead recalled. “Ya’ll need to remind DOT that if it’s too dangerous for a 53-foot truck to turn in a 20 mph zone, what about a 55-60 mph zone on a road that has seen a major increase in truck traffic over the years. Think about a small car running up underneath one of those trucks.”

Armstead added that the time was now for the local commissioners to request a change.

“The citizens here want this thing changed and it’s easier to get it changed before it’s done than to get it undone,” he stressed. “Ya’ll need to go before these folks. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. It’s better than just sending a letter. They can push a letter around; they can’t push you aside.”

“If we don’t do anything then we know what we’ll get,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler. “We’ve got to try to get this changed.”

“If it’s the pleasure of the board to take action, it needs to be immediate,” said Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens, referencing the progress work crews are currently making on the US 13 improvement project.

FormerGatesCounty Commissioner Graham Twine asked for a bit of clarification on this issue. He said as part of a local contingent that met earlier with state highway officials about the NC 137 intersection, Twine stated that according to the statistics presented by NCDOT, the super street (u-turn) design was, “10 times safer than a stoplight.”

“When we brought it to the table, I said if we were willing to go with their design, I’d support that, but if one child got killed at that intersection and we have to change it, then that’s on us,” Twine said. “If we let the state make that design decision, then that death is on them. We made our decision to go with the state’s design based on their statistics.”

Commission Chairman Henry Jordan suggested that Mendenhall be charged with making the initial contact with DOT officials in Raleigh about setting up a face-to-face meeting.

“I don’t have any problem with starting at the top, if we can get there,” said Hora, referencing an initial meeting with Gov. McCrory. “As our new governor I think he would be receptive to meeting with us, especially with the number of voting citizens whose names are on this petition. Obviously, his influence would be pretty heavy.”

Hora put his statement in the form of a motion, one that directed Mendenhall to contact the governor’s office to arrange for meeting. He also motioned to scan the petition and send it electronically, along with a cover letter, to the governor’s office.

“Time is of the essence,” Hora said.

Jordan offered a second and the motion passed without objection.

In a separate motion, Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan suggested the same material needed to be emailed to Gates County’s legislative representation in Raleigh – House Representative Annie Mobley and Senator Bill Cook.

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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