Intersection design may change

Published 10:30 am Thursday, May 23, 2013

EURE – There’s a possible design change for the NC 137/US 13 intersection, but it may not be what citizens of the Eure community were hoping for.

Last Thursday, the training area of the Eure Volunteer Fire Department was standing room only as citizens from this Gates County village pressed NC Department of Transportation officials for answers concerning a major intersection that is part of a project currently underway to widen US 13/US 158 between Winton and Tarheel Barbecue.

The effort to convince DOT officials to change the design of the NC 137 intersection began in March. John Blake Parker of Eure asked the Gates County Commissioners to join in the effort to have the intersection redesigned and include a stoplight to allow for direct crossover there.

Members of the Eure Volunteer Fire Department have also expressed their concerns over DOT’s design of the intersection, one which utilizes the “super street concept” – meaning the NC 137/US 13 intersection will not permit traffic to have direct access north and south on US 13 as well as onto Sand Banks Road. Instead, DOT is designing “super streets” near that location….u-turn lanes installed approximately 800 feet north and south of the intersection.

A petition bearing hundreds of names, all in support of a stoplight at the NC 137 intersection, was presented by Parker to the Gates County Commissioners at their March 6 meeting. In turn, the commissioners wrote letters to state officials, including the Governor, in support of a stoplight at NC 137/US 13.

At last week’s meeting, DOT officials presented an alternative plan. A “left-out” design was closely studied by the Eure residents. That design will allow left turns onto US 13/158 from NC 137 and from Sand Banks Road, but there remains no direct crossover between those two roads.

This new design was met with mixed reactions from the local residents.

“The whole concept of a four-lane highway, nobody wants to impede the flow of traffic, but with the technology we have today with these sensor-based stoplights I feel that a stoplight will work at that intersection,” said Eure resident Johnny Hora who is also a Gates County Commissioner.

“There are only certain times of the day when the traffic at that intersection is a problem, early morning and late afternoon,” he added.

There were concerns voiced about the heavy volume of truck traffic that uses NC 137. Even with the new “left-out” alternative, trucks take longer to maneuver across lanes of traffic, prompting one local citizen to say that scenario poses a danger.

“There’s nothing wrong with the engineering design of this intersection; it’s well done,” said one Eure resident. “What you totally left out is the physiological impact on the community. The implication of what you’re doing is that Gates County is going to be further isolated with traffic going and coming on (US) 13 and 158. This impact needs to be considered. NC 137 is a corridor that has meaning, has impact to our area and even beyond.”

Another local resident agreed with the safety and traffic flow design of the entire project.

“We were told there would be seven turnarounds between Winton and Tarheel,” said Dan Bazemore. “When I look at that, look at the (project) map I see a highway that is not user friendly for local people. It’s designed to keep traffic moving through GatesCounty. There are a couple of businesses on (US 13). From your design, traffic that may want to visit those businesses will have to turn around and come back. Is that user friendly? How does that impact our tax base that we need to run our county? Why can’t a road be designed to keep the traffic flowing and user friendly at the same time. What the people of this community want to know is when will the stoplight be put there (NC 137 intersection), not if a stoplight will be put there.”

“If the people coming through this area so fast, if they can’t slow down and stop at a light for a minute or two then they don’t need to be in Gates County to start with,” stressed Parker.

DOT officials said traffic volume at the intersection is used to determine if a stoplight is warranted.

“On this seven-mile long project, we’re removing the stoplight at the Winton intersection and building an interchange there,” said the project’s engineer. “One of the concerns for DOT is that with traffic moving at 60 mph through a rural area, traffic is not expected to stop on a four-lane road. If a big truck runs up on that stoplight and can’t stop and a smaller vehicle is entering the (NC 137) intersection and crossing over, then that’s a scenario we do not want to see played out.”

“That argument doesn’t hold water because there are other four lane roads in rural areas with stoplights,” Parker stressed.

“Why doesn’t (NC 137) warrant an interchange like in Winton,” one Eure citizen asked. “NC 137 has lots of traffic coming and going from Gates County as well as other areas.”

“Because in Winton there are two major roads coming together (US 13 and US 158),” the project engineer answered.

“There’s more traffic on 137 than there is on 158 from Winton to the Northampton County line,” said Parker.

“This left-out design is safer than a traffic signal and keeps the traffic on 13 and 158 flowing,” the engineer said.

DOT numbers show current traffic volumes of 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles per day on the north and south side of the Winton interchange while NC 137 is at 1,800 vehicles a day.

Another local citizen said she was worried how senior citizens who are still driving would adapt to the left-out alternative. She felt a stoplight would give senior citizen drivers a sense of safety.

Newly appointed NC Transportation Board member Malcolm Fearing of Manteo, who represents the northeastern area of the state, said he was unsure if any change could be made at this point in time.

“I’m hearing what you’re saying….you want a stoplight,” Fearing said. “I don’t think there’s a person in this room that wants a dangerous intersection there. Can something be redone, I don’t know, I don’t know the cost involved with that change. This project is under contract; the road is being built, but I assure you I will ask can something else be done differently and I will get back with you.”

DOT officials agreed with Fearing, saying they would take the concerns of the Eure residents back to Raleigh to see if any design change is warranted at the NC 137 intersection.

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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