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Catastrophe waiting to happen

GATESVILLE – An issue concerning traffic safety, particularly at Gates County High School and Central Middle School, has prompted the county Commissioners to take action.

At their recent meeting, the board voted to make the North Carolina Department of Transportation aware of those traffic issues after hearing a presentation from Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb and Deputy Ray Campbell.

“We have a problem in front of the high school and the middle school, early in the morning and in the mid afternoon with traffic,” Webb remarked. “There have been a lot of near misses, and a lot of accidents, especially in the mornings when kids are being dropped off at the middle school, and a lot of traffic issues in the afternoons when the kids are leaving the high school.”

Webb said he was aware that the Commissioners are not the governing agency that can approve changes to how traffic maneuvers in and around those two schools, but they do have the authority to make recommendations to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We need to get DOT here to conduct a study to see if there is a need for stoplights or caution lights east and west of these two particular schools because it’s getting very, very dangerous out there,” Webb said. “We’ve been able to have one of our officers out there directing traffic to help the buses leave the middle school and the high school. We have had a lot of near misses on those officers. We’re almost getting clipped because the drivers are not paying attention to the volume of traffic in those school zones.”

Webb asked for a letter of support from the Commissioners to send to DOT asking for a study.

“At a minimum, I would like to see some flashing speed limit signs,” Webb suggested.

Webb also pointed out there is no left turn lane at the intersection of US 158 East and the access road turning into State Employees Credit Union and the county library, located across from the high school.

“When you combine that fact with all the high school traffic, you can see the danger present there,” Webb stressed.

Gates County Deputy Ray Campbell said the area was a “traffic nightmare” not just for public and school motorists, but for the law enforcement officers as well.

“I’m pretty much a sitting duck out there,” said Campbell who works the morning and afternoon school zones. “I’ve some a lot of close calls because people are not paying attention.”

Campbell said he believed the danger exists due to the motorists, those traveling east prior to reaching the middle school, are on a long stretch of road at 55 mph and then enter the school zone (45 mph from 7:25-8:30 a.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m. on weekdays).

“There are some motorists running 60 mph-plus when they reach the 45 zone,” Campbell noted. “I’ve seen some wrecks….terrible sight, terrible sound. People are running way too fast in that school zone.”

Campbell also suggested a minimum of a flashing light, cautioning motorists in advance of entering a 45 mph zone.

“They should be able to see that from a half-mile away, alerting them to begin slowing down before they reach the 45 mph school zone,” Campbell said. “I’m now sitting out there in the middle of it trying to slow people down.”

Webb said his office has received assistance from the North Carolina Highway Patrol with these traffic issues.

“We’re all doing what we can, but we need some help from you (Commissioners) to see if we can get DOT to come here and conduct a study,” the Sheriff said.

Webb added he is also aware of traffic safety concerns at T.S. Cooper Elementary School in Sunbury.

“There’s a long stretch of NC 32 coming from Hobbsville where people are running 60-65 mph and all of a sudden they’re in a 45 mph school zone,” he said. “There have been some near misses there as well, but that road isn’t as congested there because of the long driveway entering the school property. But still that’s another area we need to study.”

Commissioner Ray Freeman mentioned the presence of a flashing school zone speed limit sign now in use at Bertie High School. He asked if that was the type of warning device that Gates County needed along the roadways at their schools.

“That’s the first thing I noticed when we went to a ballgame at Bertie High School….it alerts motorists because they can see it from a great distance before entering the school zone,” Campbell replied. “It would be a tremendous help for Gates County to have something like that.”

Commissioner Henry Jordan recommended that the County Manager meet with the Sheriff and draft a letter to NC DOT, requesting what Webb presented to the Board in regards to traffic safety at the schools. He placed that into a motion, which passed without objection.

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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