CEDAR POINT — Town commissioners Thursday night expressed serious concerns about an N.C. Department of Transportation feasibility study that could eventually result in the virtual elimination of the center turn lane on Highway 24 and change the highway’s major intersection with Highway 58.
Town Administrator David Rief, who recently met with officials from NCDOT and Kimley-Horne, a Raleigh consulting firm that’s doing the study, briefed the board during its monthly work session in town hall off Sherwood Avenue.
The purpose of the discussion was to get commissioners’ feelings so Mr. Rief could provide the town’s comments to Kimley-Horne, and he got them.
Of the possible plan to eliminate most intersections and the center lane in the five-lane highway and replace it with a median and occasional “bulb-outs” that would allow motorists to turn around, Commissioner Frankie Winberry said simply, “I’m against it.”
Commissioner David Winberry was equally succinct, “I’m against it 100 percent.”
Commissioners John Nash and Pam Castellano said they didn’t like the plan but thought the town should not outright oppose it, because the town needs a seat at the table as discussions continue.
Mr. Rief agreed.
If the town outright opposes the plan, he said, NCDOT could take that as meaning the town doesn’t want to be involved in discussions.
“I’m not saying I’m for it,” Mr. Rief said, “but this is all preliminary, hypothetical. If at some point they (NCDOT) want to make these changes, if we want to fully participate so they don’t say, ‘Sit down and shut up, Cedar Point.’”
The administrator also said under the feasibility study, the same project would be done in Swansboro first, then farther down Highway 24 to its intersection with Highway 70 in Morehead City.
The idea, Mr. Rief said, is to reduce what NCDOT calls roadway conflicts, in other words, reduce the number of intersections and limit left turns severely to improve safety and traffic flow.
“If you think this is bad, wait until I get to the next part,” he noted.
The next part was the Highway 24-Highway 58 intersection, where for several years NCDOT has been talking about adding additional turn lanes to decrease traffic backups in Cape Carteret, Cedar Point and Emerald Isle. But the Kimley-Horne feasibility study doesn’t even address that plan, instead posing three other possibilities.
According to Mr. Rief, Alternate 1 is essentially a diamond interchange. Alternate 2 provides for Highway 24 crossing over Highway 58 using a five-lane undivided bridge.
Alternate 3, Mr. Rief said, is the conversion of the traditional intersection into a “continuous flow” intersection, a relatively new concept in traffic engineering. Also called a crossover displaced left-turn, it is an at-grade road junction. Vehicles attempting to turn across the opposing direction of traffic cross before they enter the intersection.
No left turn signal in the intersection is then necessary. Instead, vehicles traveling in both directions can proceed, including through-vehicles and those turning right or left, when a generic traffic signal/stop sign permits.
Mr. Rief said the first one in North Carolina recently opened in Charlotte, and Mayor Scott Hatsell said there’s also one in Mt. Pleasant, near Charleston, S.C.
Mr. Rief said Alternate 1, which Cape Carteret recently reviewed and vehemently opposes, is basically “a throwaway plan” NCDOT officials know won’t fly.
It would knock out a number of businesses in Cape Carteret, including McDonald’s and Subway on the south side of the highway, plus possibly impact the town police station and town hall on the same side.
On the other side of the highway, it appears the concept could impact Hardee’s, Walgreens and part of the Carteret Crossing shopping center. It would likely take out Bojangles’, BB&T and Go Gas, among other businesses, in Cedar Point.
Mayor Dave Fowler said during a recent Cape Carteret board meeting the intent appears to be to get motorists to Emerald Isle more efficiently, without regard for Cape Carteret or Cedar Point and their tax bases.
Cedar Point commissioners agreed Thursday, but also surmised that unless the Emerald Isle high-rise bridge becomes four lanes instead of two lanes, the concept wouldn’t help much anyway.
The second alternative, Mr. Rief told commissioners Monday, would not take out Bojangles’ or Go Gas, but would likely affect parking areas and would allow a straight shot on Highway 58 toward Emerald Isle on a bridge over Highway 24.
But Cedar Point commissioners don’t like that one either, in part because it would disrupt the feel of the town and still harm some businesses.
Alternative 3, commissioners agreed, is the better of the three, but David Winberry didn’t think it would be safe because of the complexity.
If it were to happen, he said, “If I was a young man, I’d go out and buy a bunch of wreckers.”
Mr. Rief called it “the lesser of three evils,” since there is no bridge on Highway 24 and no massive, business-killing cloverleaf.
“If we have to agree to something,” David Winberry said, “this is it.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.