Chris Berendt Staff Writer
September 8, 2013
Alternatives to the N.C. 24 project proposal, including leaving the traffic light at Walmart instead of moving it to Overland Road, were presented by Department of Transportation officials, who expressed surprise at the large turnout for an open house at the City Hall Auditorium Thursday night.
The open house was not widely advertised and was announced at the Clinton City Council meeting just two days before, with that notice being given to city staff just a week in advance. DOT officials on Thursday said they wanted to get feedback, specifically from property owners in the affected area where alternatives were being floated, but conceded the project would likely be going to bid in a matter of weeks.
“It’s been in design a long time, and last year we were asked about shifting some signals and a couple redesigns,” said DOT Division 3 engineer Karen Fussell. She said those issues were discussed further in recent months. “If you look, we’re not talking about all of N.C. 24. The topic of tonight is about keeping the stop ight at Walmart and that, in essence, would add a signal at Airport … then keep the one at the Country Club.”
It was originally designed to move the traffic signal to Overland Road
“That is the typical design,” said Fussell, “because you want to move traffic lights to where you have a (state) road. But when you start looking at it now, if the design was kept to where the light was at Overland, if you’re going out of Clinton, there were about four different ways to get to the Walmart side of the project. But when you’re coming into Clinton, there are not very many ways to get on the Bojangles, Taco Bell, hotels side of the street.”
That was the reasoning, beginning last year, to put together alternatives.
Jackson Provost, Division 3 construction engineer, said the two options came out of brainstorming, brought about by citizen concerns.
The current proposal moves the traffic light at Sampson Crossing (main Walmart entrance) to Overland Road, with a median at Airport Road and traffic lights at SCC and Coharie Country Club, as well as a new one at Coharie and Fox Lake, as well as eliminates the traffic light at Shamrock in favor of one at Pierce Street.
The two alternatives leave the majority of the N.C. 24 project proposal intact, however one option would leave the traffic light at Sampson Crossing and put one up at Airport Road, with none at Overland. The second option would leave the light at Overland, as currently planned, but also implement the opportunity for a U-turn across from easternmost entrance to the Walmart shopping center.
“I guess the word got out too good, because we weren’t expecting this many people here,” said Provost. “We’re getting ready to let this project in about three weeks so this is going to be a major change for the department if we do anything. The opportunity here that we’re presenting tonight is, if the signal were to stay at Walmart — we’ve had a lot of feedback from Walmart and McDonalds and we know the people on the other side would like to see it as well — but right now there’s not a lot of good connectivity between some of those businesses on that side of the road (Bojangles, Taco Bell, hotels, etc.).”
“I don’t think we’re here to say who’s in favor or not in favor of the signal, but we want to let you know that we’ve gotten some concerns about the present design that is getting ready to be let in three weeks,” he continued. “I’m a construction engineer and I hate to change … but we’re trying to be the best stewards we can.”
He opened it up for citizens and property owners to give comments. Michael Lindsay expressed concerns about the Shamrock light being eliminated under the current proposal.
“On the proposed plan, there is not one at Piggly Wiggly (at Shamrock),” said Lindsay. “That’s sort of my issue. I paid the state a lot of money to get that light. Shamrock Plaza built that light and I’m getting nothing for it coming out. I’ve got an issue with putting those other three lights right ahead of me and taking mine.”
“That light moved because of Pierce and trying to open access on both sides, back to Lowes,” said Fussell.
She brought the discussion back to further west down Sunset Avenue, where the only deviations from the current plan were being considered.
“So you’re not going to put a stop ight at Overland Road?” asked Jasper Willetts, construction and maintenance manager at Go-Gas, referring to one of the alternatives. “You’re going to kill us at Go-Gas, and we won’t get any inbound traffic into Clinton. Nobody’s going to cut across that amount of traffic on 24 to come get gas. If DOT’s going to come through and put a median at that stoplight, it’s going to cut business in half. I might as well close the store. If DOT wants to buy my whole station, they can have it.”
Others, including Walmart representatives and Hugh Caison, owner of the McDonald’s, have expressed their desire to see the traffic light into the Sampson Crossing stay where it is. DOT traffic counts into the Walmart are four times what they are at Overland Road, and eight times what they are at Airport Road, Provost said.
Provost said the state would need to see some cooperation between those property owners around Walmart to make the current signal work better for the whole community. “The majority of traffic is at that signal now,” said Provost. “We wanted to hear from the business owners and if there’s some opportunities for connectivity.”
With the project, there will be sidewalks all the way down N.C. 24, so there will be potential for many more pedestrians. Having a safe pedestrian crossing at that signal would be a big benefit, Provost noted. Connectivity would be a huge plus.
“We’re trying to look at the big picture,” said Provost. “I know the individual property owners, everyone has their concerns … but we’re looking at opportunities for connectivity. Somebody would have to sacrifice some things. This is what we’re looking at — are there some opportunities to do some good things for the community as a whole, and not penalize one over the other.”
The overall N.C. 24 widening project proposes a four-lane roadway stretching for 40 miles, from Cumberland County to Interstate 40 near Warsaw, divided by a median and with interchanges constructed at major crossroads.
Segments A is entirely in Cumberland County, with Segment B beginning in Cumberland and ending at Dowdy Road in Sampson. Those contracts have been let and work is underway. Segments C and D, both entirely in Sampson, are expected to be bid as a single “cluster” project.
Segment C extends from Dowdy Road to Mitchell Loop Road, and Segment D includes the section from Mitchell Loop Road along Sunset Avenue to the U.S. 421/701 Bypass (Faircloth Freeway). All four sections are expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Two segments extending from Clinton to Warsaw have not been funded.
“This will probably be the first big median project in these parts,” Fussell said. “There is a traffic-calming nature to that median. The accident rates are just down tremendously. The left-overs prevent people from going out and getting T-boned. It is a very safe design and it keeps traffic flowing. That has been the history of this design.”
Provost said some of the particulars around the Walmart area of Sunset Avenue were subject to change based on public input.
“A decision has not been made either way,” said Provost. “We’re just here to present a couple of options based on what we’ve heard from the community along that section of 24, and the opportunities for businesses to maybe do some connectivity to make this work out. I think it’s probably too late in the game to be redesigning the whole project, because we’re letting this in three weeks, hopefully.”
“We’re just assembling this information,” added Fussell. “It shouldn’t be too very much longer. Perhaps, within a month.”
To contact Jackson Provost, call 910-341-2000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.