MOREHEAD CITY — Local and county officials and residents gathered at the Crystal Coast Civic Center Wednesday to review the latest plans and provide feedback for a proposed project to extend Bridges Street.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is undertaking the estimated $45 million project as a measure to relieve traffic congestion on Highway 70 and provide better overall mobility between Morehead City and Newport. The project involves widening the roadway along Business Drive and constructing a segment at a new location before tying in to Highway 70 in the vicinity of McCabe Road.
As proposed, the road will be a four-lane, median-divided highway, sidewalks for pedestrians and wide outer travel lanes for bicyclists, plus grade-separated railroad crossings. Digital renderings on display at the meeting showed attendees what the new road and surrounding areas might look like.
According to project manager Liz Workman, NCDOT is considering two alternative routes for the project – one along Old Murdoch Road and one just west of Sam Garner Road. Since the last public meeting in July, officials have eliminated an alternative on Gladys Teasley Lane and have shifted the Sam Garner Road route slightly west of its original location.
The latest plans got mixed reviews from meeting attendees. The project has been somewhat controversial since its inception, and many showed to voice their opinions about the proposed routes.
Clayton Garner Jr. of Garner Farms, which the Sam Garner West route would partially run through, said he is particularly concerned about the Sam Garner Road option because it would eliminate a railroad crossing he uses to move farm equipment between his shop and the fields. Without the crossing, he said he would have to take the heavy equipment onto busy roads, which could be dangerous.
“I’d kind of accepted the road, if it would come through (the farms), until I got here and saw the railroad crossing got taken out,” he said Wednesday. “That’s kind of got me in a daze right now.”
Mr. Garner said a potential new crossing would not be up to NCDOT, but rather the N.C. Railroad, which owns the railroad property. He said in the next few weeks, he and other stakeholders will meet as a small group with state representatives to discuss the project and he will bring up his concerns.
Overall, Mr. Garner said he and his family are not necessarily opposed to the project altogether, but he wants to know the impacts to his farm as soon as possible so he can begin planning for the future.
“With a project like this, somebody somewhere is going to be unsatisfied no matter what they do,” he said. “We’ll make the best of whatever comes. I know we won’t be able to stop them, it’s coming no matter what.”
Others wondered whether the project is even necessary. Ken Harrell is a lifelong Morehead City resident who lives near Old Murdoch Road. He said his home is far enough off the proposed route that he isn’t at risk of being displaced, but the new road could eliminate an access across a railroad crossing he uses frequently.
“That could end up being a big inconvenience,” he said.
As for the project overall, he said the potential benefit doesn’t seem worth the high cost.
“Looking at the project as a whole, it just doesn’t make any sense to spend this much money to get very little benefit, the way I look at it. You’re still bottlenecked further up the road,” Mr. Harrell said. “I just see this as being an awful lot of expense, and I don’t see the cost benefit.”
NCDOT and its consulting firm for the project, VHB Engineering, put together future traffic volume projections based on population data and trends to demonstrate the need for the Bridges Street extension project. According to the projections, which were presented at the meeting, NCDOT expects traffic congestion to increase on Highway 70 by up to 15,000 additional cars per day in the coming years if a fix isn’t put in place.
However, Morehead City Councilwoman Diane Warrender said she is concerned the project could shift more traffic further east on Bridges Street. She said some intersections on Bridges Street are already congested, especially at 35th Street, where the post office and hospital are located, and adding more cars would likely worsen the situation.
“There’s no answer as to what they’re going to do about Bridges Street, and that has been my bugaboo since the start,” she said.
Ms. Warrender has pushed for intersection improvement projects on Bridges Street to be completed before the extension project begins in order to alleviate the issue.
According to the current project timeline, NCDOT expects to complete the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact by this summer. A preferred alternative will be included with that document.
The final design and hydraulic analysis will be submitted in winter 2020, and right-of-way acquisition will begin in 2022 with the evaluation, negotiation and purchase of real estate along the route. Construction is expected to begin in 2024.
A public comment period for the project is open until Monday, April 22. To submit a public comment for the Bridges Street extension project:
• Visit the website publicinput.com/BridgesSt.
• Contact Ms. Workman by phone at 919-854-6221, email email@example.com or mail a comment to P.O. Box 1587, Greenville, NC 27835.
• Contact consultant project manager Candice Andre by phone at 919-741-5346, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail a comment to 940 Main Campus Drive, Suite 500, Raleigh, NC 27606.
Project maps and other information is available on the public input websiteat ncdot.gov/news/public-meetings/Pages/R-5727-2019-03-20.aspx.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.