Road gripes

Published 10:42 am Thursday, May 5, 2016

WINDSOR – Members of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) Maintenance division appeared Monday before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners to address concerns the county’s citizens have made regarding safety issues and road hazards.

The Commissioners wrote to DOT last month complimenting the department on its 2016 winter storm preparation, but also said they had received feedback from their constituents voicing concerns over several roadway issues.

Three specific areas of concern the Commissioners say they had received complaints were:

Indian Woods Road (SR 1108) which experiences flooding and washout conditions during heavy rains on a regular basis. The Commissioners suggested that maintenance of the road’s drainage ditches might help alleviate part of the problem.

Woodard Road off US 17 south of Windsor (SR 1500) near Roquist Creek also had issues with flooding during significant rain events; portions of which are marked “high water” with DOT signage.

The intersection of NC-11 and NC-308 at Lewiston-Woodville which the Commissioners felt warranted a traffic safety study for the possible installation of a traffic light based on information provided by local citizens.

The Indian Woods Road area was first discussed with DOT in July of 2015 at the Commissioner’s meeting at the Blue Jay Fire Department. At that meeting, District-I Maintenance Engineer Sterling Baker responded to the concerns expressed by citizens regarding various places on Indian Woods Road and stated the areas in question would be investigated.

“Outlet ditches as a whole are an issue all over our division and the department has a policy of trying to deal with the water at the right of way,” explained Maintenance Engineer Win Bridgers. “It’s our job to convey it from one side of the road to the other, and, honestly, we need a cooperative effort on the part of all the landowners who contribute to the watershed.”

Bridgers said all three concerns had been investigated and that on the western end of Indian Woods Road there was a large tree about 50 feet off the roadway causing a two-foot water difference on either side of the tree.

“We’re pursuing permission from our permit office to go off the right-of-way into that outlet ditch with the intent of going in with excavators and removing that tree,” Bridgers said. “It won’t require any excavation or clean-out, just to remove the root ball from the tree and since it’s adjacent to a cutover we’re hoping the landowner won’t mind if we push it aside into the cutover.”

Bridgers said once the root removal was complete, the engineers would do other work along the area road ditches.

“As we make certain improvements and see what that does we’ll go back and re-visit it again (the eastern and western sections of the road) and if it hasn’t done enough we’ll investigate it some more,” Bridgers remarked.

The engineers said the second item of concern was an area call “the neck”, where Roquist Creek crosses Woodard Road and that there were several beaver dams located downstream. Beaver Management through the NC Wildlife Commission had been contacted and most of the dams have been cleared away.

“Given the fact that it’s a creek crossing there’s not a lot of relief that DOT can offer,” Bridgers stated. “It’s a wetlands area with a natural stream so excavation and cleaning out is not an option.”

Bridgers said grading work on the shoulder of the road has been done to even the runoff, but during the grading after about two inches engineers encountered an underground utility tape buried in shallow ground less than 12-inches deep.

“For fear the utilities were not buried as deep as they should be we elected not to continue cutting the shoulder for fear of what we might drag out,” he said.

Bridgers said the flooding of Roquist Creek during a heavy rain sometimes extends to the four-lane on US-17 South.

“If the wind is blowing out of the east we all know the Cashie (River) backs up, so if the outlet at the Cashie is full Roquist Creek is not going to drain; and all that just continues to pile up.

Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson said the area of concern is located in his district and wondered if the roadway might possibly be raised. Bridgers’ answer was that there are more stringent regulations today on road work in a flood plain.

“You cannot do anything in the flood plain which causes the water elevation during certain rainfall events to rise, so building the roadway could impact the flood plain elevation,” he explained.

Bridgers pointed to the raised elevation of replacement bridges that are being re-built over creek beds.

“It may have been a 100-foot structure to start with, now you see us digging out to make it 150-feet to open the flood plain,” he said.”

Roper stated that it might also be a funding issue from two separate funding sources.

“My sense is the bridge replacement funding wasn’t sufficient to go back and address the roadway issue,” Roper said. “But we will investigate it.”

Commissioner Tammy Lee inquired if DOT still cleaned out roadway ditches; because she was told they no longer did.

“We try to maintain the roadway ditches as budget conditions warrant,” Roper advised. “The downstream outlet ditches are the responsibility of the property owner. That’s the law in the state and its interpretation. Nowadays, the rules about what we can and can’t do are very restrictive. That’s not an absolute ‘no’. We try to work with water folks as well as landowners … but we have to have a vested interest when we go off the right-of-way.”

Commissioner Stewart White asked about NC 45 in his district, particularly at the Roanoke River Bridge leading to Plymouth and Washington County.

“That road (sometimes) is like riding a roller-coaster,” White said. “I’ve had complaints, and all I advise is slow down to about 35 miles-an-hour and you won’t lose your boat going across the bridge.”

“When you build a road in a swamp, you’re going to have some challenges,” said Roper.

“I wouldn’t have your job,” joked White. “I get enough phone calls just for a pot-hole.”

Traffic Engineer Jason Davidson addressed the NC-11/NC-308 intersection and said the DOT investigation was not complete at this time.

“We have a firm that comes in, performs traffic counts, and looks at the turning movements because the installation of a traffic control signal is based on the volume of traffic at a particular location. It (traffic light) is a right-of-way machine, and it’s only as good as the people that use it.”

Davidson said the accident patterns are typical for a rural location such as 11/308; and that as of the last survey in 2012, traffic flashers were installed as part of a spot-safety project.

“It isn’t working as effective as we would like for it to (be),” he admitted. “So we are extending this out to take a look at that. A traffic signal isn’t completely out of the question.”

Davidson said he hoped the data collection would be completed later this month and that a DOT decision would be forthcoming before the first of June.