Tramway super street project prompts questions, concerns

May. 07, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

The head of the N.C. Department of Transportation district encompassing Lee County and seven other counties in the area updated political and business leaders on local projects during the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Luncheon held Monday.

District 8 Engineer Richard Hancock touched on a range of current and upcoming projects that will affect U.S. 1, Tramway Road, Hawkins Avenue, U.S. 421 and N.C. 42.

Hancock's presentation — and questions from the audience — focused largely on U.S. 1, and in particular on the area near that highway's intersection with Tramway Road/Center Church Road. Because of the looming development of a large shopping center at that intersection, plans are under way to turn the nearby section of U.S. 1 into what's known as a super street. That would mean the intersection would cease to exist, allowing traffic on U.S. 1 to flow without stopping.

Drivers from either direction wanting to go left onto U.S. 1 would take a right turn, go several hundred feet, and then make a U-turn at a specially designed intersection. It's an increasingly common way of addressing congestion issues, Hancock said. His department ran computer simulations of traffic patterns at various times and found that even without a big box retailer, the nine out-parcels planned for the site — which so far only officially include Bojangles and CVS — would still draw enough traffic to warrant the change.

"What we found in all cases was that the super street actually worked and progressed traffic through much better," Hancock said.

Several elected officials in attendance expressed concerns about the project, although Hancock said that each had been considered. Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack asked how the DOT would handle traffic on Tramway while building the super street, and he also asked for strict safety precautions. Womack said at least one fatal wreck occurred when a super street was being built on Highway 87 in Harnett County, and that no lives are worth losing for the sake of progress.

Hancock said ample safety measures would be in place, and he also noted that after super streets are built, accidents decrease because of the lack of an intersection. Indeed, according to a 2011 N.C. State study billed as the largest study of super streets ever conducted, U-turn intersections on super streets experience 46 percent fewer accidents than normal intersections, as well as 63 percent fewer accidents resulting in personal injury. As for construction, Hancock said, it would be conducted during non-peak hours and would only require one lane to be closed at a time.

Sanford City Councilman Sam Gaskins mentioned the three public schools in the area — Tramway Elementary School, SanLee Middle School and Southern Lee High School — which send out dozens of buses and also have parents waiting in long lines to pick up their children every weekday. He asked whether a super street would really be best for those periods of brief but heavy congestion, and Hancock responded that when he was in Stanly County with the DOT, the department was considering switching a super street back to a normal intersection. However, the schools actually asked to keep the super street.

Lee County Board of Education member Mark Akinosho said the extra distance school buses will have to travel will add to the district's fuel costs and asked if Tramway/Center Church could be extended over U.S. 1 instead. However, Hancock said there's not enough room at the intersection to build ramps off of a bridge, so traffic wouldn't be able to turn left or right onto U.S. 1. In addition to inconveniencing drivers who want to get onto the highway, Hancock said, it would hurt nearby businesses.

All things considered, Hancock said, a super street will help the area. As such, he said, permits have been issued to the developers, and construction could begin this month and be wrapped up within a year.

Other traffic developments Hancock noted:

- Large overhead signs could soon be in place on the completed eastern portion of the U.S. 421 Bypass.

- The western part of that same bypass probably won't be done until next year despite a goal of October 2013.

- Roundabouts on Hawkins Avenue near the intersection with U.S. 1 could become a reality soon, with construction expected to begin in April 2014.

- N.C. 42, between Horner Boulevard and Broadway Road, will be widened to at least three lanes and, in parts, to four lanes beginning in May 2018.