A traffic light won’t be erected at the intersection of Kader Merritt Road and U.S. 421 south, at least for now, but Department of Transportation officials said the eight accidents in the last five years there were serious enough to warrants some improvements to the area.
And those improvements, said DOT District Engineer Lin Reynolds, should make the area safer for the hundreds of teenagers and adults who travel it to and from Union High School, as well as other destinations, nearly daily.
The improvements come on the heels of a DOT traffic study completed in the area over the last several weeks, one initiated at the request of the Sampson County Board of Education and the Union District Advisory Council after district advisory president Tammy Tew made an impassioned plea in November calling for something to be done to improve safety at the intersection.
At a November school board meeting, Tew talked about the large numbers of students traveling the roads in the mornings and afternoons, and cited several serious accidents that, she said, needed to be stopped before someone was killed out there.
School officials echoed those sentiments in meetings with Reynolds who, in turn, made the request for the traffic study.
“The Traffic Department has looked at it extensively,” Reynolds said Monday, “and they determined that the accidents that have occurred out there in the last few years did warrant some action. It didn’t warrant a stop sign, but it did warrant some improvements.”
Although the eight traffic crashes at the intersection during that five-year period were below the state average, Reynolds said recommendations for changes had been made and were now in the process of being implemented.
In a letter from Reynolds to Anthony Vann, executive director of axillary services for Sampson County Schools, the DOT engineer said the size of the stop signs at Kader Merritt Road would be increased and a strip of reflector placed on the posts to make them more visible to drivers. In addition, a yellow 45 mph sign will be posted on the intersection signs on U.S. 421 and DOT crews will repaint the intersection to make it more visible as well.
Reynolds called all the steps normal protocol in DOT’s quest to make improvement when it is determined they are needed.
“We are going to try all those measures first. We believe that will make the area safer and far easier to notice.”
Reynolds acknowledged that the traffic study had shown that there was tremendous movement of traffic along Kader Merritt and U.S. 421 in the early mornings, when school was taking in for the day, and in the afternoon, when students were leaving.
“But at other times, there’s limited traffic on that road.”
With no fatalities recorded in the area and only mid-level accidents occurring, Reynolds said talk of a traffic signal, which Tew and others had hoped could be erected, was a long way off.
“We felt like it was justified to upgrade the signs and do the other work we’re talking about. That’s a cost effective measure that usually makes a big difference. But there’s no justification at this time for a traffic signal,” Reynolds said.
Although many believe traffic signals are the best solution, Reynolds said that is often not the case, noting that in many incidences erecting traffic signals can actually cause traffic accidents in the area to increase.
“They may not be as serious, but you usually see a spike in traffic accidents a few months after a traffic signal is erected. A good example would be in the Spivey’s Corner area. We put up a stop light at U.S. 421 and the accidents have increased because people aren’t paying attention to the light and it’s causing a lot of rear-end collisions.”
Reynolds said traffic signals have their place but the end result, he attested, isn’t always a reduction in accidents.
The new stop signs, he said, should be erected along Kader Merritt Road in the next 30 days, the sign on U.S. 421 in about the same amount of time, and painting will begin when the cold weather breaks.
“We are going to continue to monitor the area once those improvements are made to see if things get better, as I suspect they will. We’ll give it six months or so, review the history and go from there. We’ll do that a couple of times during the year.”
Tew, contacted Monday afternoon, said she was disappointed that a traffic signal wasn’t going up, but was happy progress was being made.
“We have a meeting next week with school officials and the DOT, and I’m sure we’ll talk about it then. I don’t think the improvements, alone, will alleviate the problem, particularly when you have three lanes of traffic coming up to those stop signs, but it’s a start. Anything steps that are being taken are positive, and I appreciate that we are moving forward.”
Tew said her biggest concern was the way drivers approach and wait at the stop sign at Kader Merritt, stressing again the three lanes made at the stop sign.
“Look you’ve got drivers making a right lane to turn right, others in a lane to go straight and others turning left. And there’s really only one lane there. It makes it very hard to see. We need something done about that and we are going to talk about it. But I’m happy to see some progress, too.”
Vann said from the school system’s perspective they appreciated DOT’s willingness to take a second look at the intersection and make changes.
“I feel better about it, I can tell you that,” Vann stressed. “Obviously we don’t want anyone to get hurt out there. I believe what the DOT is recommending will help. And the fact that they are going to keep monitoring it makes me feel better, too. They’ll keep an eye out and see if the changes work. It they don’t, I’m sure it will be revisited.”
Reynolds said that was certainly true.
“If these improvements don’t work, then the next step would be consideration of a post with a flashing light. The last resort would be a traffic light.
“It costs about $120,000 or $130,000 to erect a traffic signal, and that’s not always the best solution. What we are recommending right now will cost about $5,000 and we believe it will make the intersection far safer. But we’ll keep monitoring it, too and we’ll go from there,” Reynolds said.