The Sampson Community College Board of Trustees has thrown its full support behind the state’s current N.C. 24 project proposal that would keep the traffic light at the college, as well as favored an entrance reconfiguration featuring a roundabout — necessitated by the widening project — to improve traffic flows.
President Dr. Paul Hutchins quickly addressed the issue as part of his reports to the board Tuesday night.
The prospect of the traffic light moving prompted the SCC Board of Trustees to seek information from N.C. Department of Transportation representatives. DOT Division 3 engineer Karen Fussell, district engineer Lin Reynolds and others met with SCC officials June 26, at which time SCC officials expressed their desire to see the light stay put.
The Board of Trustees made that stance official Tuesday night, voting unanimously to support keeping the DOT’s current proposal as is.
The current proposal moves the traffic light at Sampson Crossing 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. Last month, Sen. Brent Jackson offered an alternative to that proposal that would remove the traffic light at SCC in favor of one at Airport Road, citing safety issues and the benefits to economic development with possible investors traveling to and from the airport. He said at the time he was aware of opposition to his alternative, and it would ultimately be up to the public.
“We invited DOT to come here and meet with us following some conversations we had with Senator Jackson,” said Hutchins. “It prompted us to be more proactive in trying to reach out to the Department of Transportation to find out what their plans were and how it was going to impact Sampson Community College.”
Hutchins, Dr. Bill Starling, vice president of administration, Board of Trustees chairman Larry Barnes and several trustees attended that meeting, at which DOT representatives informed SCC officials the plans did not include moving the traffic light from the SCC entrance to Airport Road, but they wished to solicit input from the community college as to whether they desired such a relocation.
“Nothing has been modified yet on the N.C. 24 project,” Fussell said recently. “NCDOT is merely looking into a suggestion to consider moving the signal from (Coharie) Country Club to Airport Road. We are still investigating the possibility and will make a decision in the next couple of months.”
Slight changes to the plans can be made at any time on a project, as long as it does not affect the environmental permits or require more right of way, Fussell noted.
“The college is recommending that the board vote to support the Department of Transportation’s current position, which is to leave the red light at our entrance-way,” Hutchins said. “And secondly, the college is recommending to the board that we adopt an entrance-way design that incorporates a roundabout as traffic flows off of Highway 24 into our campus once they’ve completed this four-laning project.”
Starling went over the two options as solutions to the entrance configuration. The DOT project will take close to two acres along the N.C. 24 road front as part of the widening.
“Highway 24 is moving onto the campus a considerable distance and we’re losing some of what is called stacking distance,” said Starling. “When vehicles turn off and come onto the campus when the light turns green, they have to be able to move onto the campus and move in one direction or the other before the light phases out and you end up with traffic stacked on 24, which is unsafe.”
Starling noted that when classes end, or anytime around 5 p.m., there will be a considerable amount of traffic stacking on the way out, especially turning right toward Clinton. He said there needs to be some accommodation to make up for the distance being lost, as a result of the right of way acquisition, for traffic to stack back.
‘Newton Grove in your front yard’
The first proposal would include realigning Campus Road and moving a portion of the parking in the front lot and develop a new lot that would more than make up for the spaces lost. The second proposal would bring a roundabout to the entrance, a traffic circle feature becoming more common in many urban areas.
“This is Newton Grove in your front yard,” said Starling, referring to the town’s traffic circle. He also noted the one near Clinton High School. “This allows traffic to move in and make the right turn. For stacking purposes, coming out in the afternoon, it allows you to stack back. It is close. We’ve eliminated the output-input from the (staff) lot.”
He said the college does not necessarily have to etch its commitment to one of the designs in stone, however having a preference would be positive going forward.
“We do need to be able to represent to DOT that one design is preferred over the other, because the numbers are different,” said Starling. “(Option 2) is actually, believe it or not, a little bit less expensive than the previous plan, which has a lot more concrete and curb.”
The cost for the Campus Road realignment option is $709,150, while the roundabout option costs $648,045. Starling noted that Fussell did not necessarily embrace the numbers “wholeheartedly,” but said they would start as a negotiating point between DOT and the college. It does not appear that either option will be able to spare the college’s fountain.
“Unfortunately I’m certain (the fountain) will be impacted by either one of the scenarios and will have to be moved,” said Starling. “One of the design features you could consider is another fountain. It would have to be significantly larger, in our opinion, than the current fountain that is in front of the school.”
Design plans show that a new fountain could be placed in the center of the roundabout, however any future location was not discussed by trustees. Board member Willie Jacobs asked whether it was an absolute certainty that the fountain would have to be relocated.
“It is so close, even if it was not overtaken by the roadway, I think aesthetically it would be unacceptable at that point in time,” Starling replied.
The board endorsed the current N.C. 24 project, including leaving the light where it is at the SCC entrance. It also favored the roundabout option, plans for which trustees originally were presented with in April. Jacobs asked how much effect the roundabout would have on stacking.
“I think with either one of the proposals there is the potential to have some problems, but I think Dr. Starling and I both agree that the roundabout is the best of the two solutions to make sure traffic will move more freely so that we will not have to many stacking problems,” said Hutchins. “But it is going to be right there at the interchange at that red light.”
“It’s going to be close,” Starling reiterated.
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. Currently funded sections extend to Faircloth Freeway in Clinton. Ground will be broken on the first section in Cumberland late this year. The others will be bid out next June, according to DOT officials. Ground is set to be broken in Sampson in September 2013.
Trustee Carole Robinson asked whether there was any hope of moving the proposed project pathway a little further over on the other side, so as to not sandwich the front of the college and require the fountain to be moved. “Not that they indicated to us in that meeting,” Hutchins said.
Barnes said that while a new entrance configuration is not definite, favoring a certain layout assists in ongoing negotiations with the state. SCC’s full support of DOT’s current project proposal also goes a long way.
“It doesn’t marry us to this in concrete, but we’re really in the negotiating stages now,” Barnes said. “I think it’s being held up until this traffic light issue is resolved. This project is moving really quickly.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.