Roundabout opposition remains

Published 4:03 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

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AHOSKIE – Members of the Ahoskie Town Council are still not 100 percent sold on NCDOT’s plan to transform the Memorial Drive / Academy Street intersection into a roundabout.

The project, which is designed to improve mobility and travel conditions along Memorial Drive (US 13), also includes replacing the railroad bridge, which is classified as functionally obsolete (constructed in 1938. It’s also designed to provide accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians by widening the travel lanes to 14 feet. There will also be new sidewalks installed.

NCDOT Division One officials attended the May 9 meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council. There, Barry Hobbs, NCDOT Engineer, noted that in February, the Council approved a resolution that did not favor a design that significantly alters the flow of traffic at the Memorial / Academy intersection. He said DOT opted for a roundabout based on the results of a study that showed it takes a motorist, on average, 30 to 33 seconds to navigate through that intersection, which currently handles 13,500 vehicles per day. By 2045, the number of vehicles using that intersection is projected to increase to 19,500 per day.

“If we did nothing to that intersection, leave it at its current configuration, the average delay goes from 33 seconds up to 65 seconds,” Hobbs said, noting the numbers from the DOT-commissioned study.

The study also showed an option to the roundabout by changing the timing of the traffic signal, which would leave motorists facing a delay of 42-to-48 seconds to navigate the intersection.

Meanwhile, the study showed that with a roundabout in place, a motorist could navigate that intersection in only six to eight seconds.

“Traffic keeps moving through a roundabout,” Hobbs said. “Your delay is reduced significantly.”

He added that with the current design, vehicles in the left turn lane of Academy Street attempting to access Memorial Drive is backed up past Sunset Street during rush hour traffic.

Hobbs pointed out that the Town Council’s resolution from February also asked DOT to ensure the design allows for safe emergency response, specifically the Ahoskie Fire Department’s 57 foot ladder truck.

“We ask our consultant to go back and verify that your ladder truck can safely navigate the roundabout, which it can because the roundabout is designed with a truck apron,” Hobbs observed. “That apron gives some extra room for trucks and other large vehicles. All roundabouts are designed with a truck apron.”

Additionally, Hobbs said that a few adjustments made to the project since the February public meeting have resulted in dropping the number of residential relocations from 10 to zero.

“We will not have to completely buy any property,” Hobbs said. “We do have a few easements to acquire due to improvements needed for sight distances at corners. That’s win for everybody.”

Hobbs said that the drainage issues on the east side of the bridge would also be addressed. He added that NCDOT has resolved an issue with the residents on the west side of the bridge who would be prevented from turning left onto Memorial Drive from their driveways due to a concrete island.

“[NCDOT] respectfully requests that the Ahoskie Town Council pass a resolution of support for the current design of [this project] including the roundabout at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Academy Street,” Hobbs concluded.

Fielding a question from Councilman Charles Freeman, Hobbs said if the roundabout doesn’t become a reality, the project would still include replacing the railroad bridge as well as making a few adjustments to the timing of the traffic signal at Memorial Drive and Academy Street.

“If our citizens think it’s better to have a new bridge and leave the [Memorial/Academy] intersection as is, you would have no problems accepting our desires,” Freeman asked.

“We can certainly take [Town] Council’s wishes into consideration,” Hobbs replied.

“So, what you’re saying is if the citizens choose one thing and the state chooses one thing, the state has the strongest process and the town doesn’t,” Freeman inquired.

At that point, Division Engineer C.W. “Win” Bridgers spoke on the issue.

“We know that this is something new and everybody doesn’t like new; they don’t like change,” Bridgers said. “I know this roundabout is distasteful for some people, but the goal is to move people efficiently and effectively. The roundabout will work.

“I’m not going to say that because the Town of Ahoskie doesn’t want it that the Department of Transportation will walk away from it,” Bridgers continued. “We will take what you said under consideration, but a lot of this is about what you want. Do you want 15,000 vehicles a day taking 30 seconds to a minute apiece sitting idle, waiting to navigate through that intersection?”

Bridgers advised that the state has appropriated the money to install the roundabout in an effort to improve traffic flow and safety.

“If we don’t do this now and the traffic keeps backing up, there may not be money to fix this the next time,” he cautioned.

Bridgers added he felt strongly that motorists – the majority of which using that particular intersection are from local area – will quickly understand how the roundabout greatly improves traffic flow after a “couple of times using it.”

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn asked of what impact the new heliport at the hospital, complete with gates that block traffic on that section of Memorial Drive when a patient is being taken to the helicopter, would have on the traffic flow of the roundabout.

“Those gates came after this project was scoped,” Bridgers said. “We’ll have to go back in and make a few adjustments for that, to include some sort of warning signs [activated when the gates are lowered].”

He asked for the Town Council to compile a list of specific concerns/issues/questions about the roundabout.

Council members took no action on DOT’s request to support the project as presented.

“We’re here to do what’s in the best interest of the town and our citizens and will make a decision based on that,” stated Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White.

According to the project’s timeline, right-of-way acquisition is scheduled for July of this year with construction slated to begin in June 2025.

The total cost of the project is $16.4 million.

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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