BEAUFORT — State transportation engineers have agreed to modify the design of the planned Highway 70 bridge and bypass project to allay concerns of residents north of town.
Residents of the Shell Landing subdivision expressed concerns that the design of the Gallants Channel bridge and roadway project would cut off their neighborhood from a direct route into town. The original plan would have removed a section of existing Highway 70 south of Shell Landing Road, forcing neighborhood residents to travel north toward Down East to get on the planned bypass and then exit the bypass to get back to the business district on to Live Oak Street.
The entire project has been delayed due to a pending U.S. Coast Guard decision on the bridge design, but frustration over how the project would tie back into existing Highway 70 near Olga Road and the Shell Landing subdivision has grown in recent weeks.
At least 90 area residents, including at least 60 representing the 68 households in Shell Landing, signed a petition opposing the N.C. Department of Transportation’s design, based on safety concerns. NCDOT engineers decided to make the change based on those concerns.
NCDOT’s Kristine O’Connor, the Gallants Channel project manager, contacted the News-Times Wednesday to explain the modification. She said engineers reviewed the safety and feasibility of an alternative plan submitted by a resident and agreed to change the access design for the neighborhood based on the submitted proposal. Engineers have yet to finalize the redesign.
“We received a plan from a citizen that was considered in our Division and Traffic Safety Office and decided to make that change to give people peace of mind,” Ms. O’Connor said.
She said that the original design was deemed safe, but it was the public’s “perception of safety” that engineers sought to address.
“Because this is what the people have asked for, we decided to accommodate that request,” she said.
In the new design, traffic from Shell Landing will be able to travel along existing Highway 70 and Live Oak Street, avoiding the new bypass.
“Even though what we designed was in line with standards and perfectly safe, we want people to feel they are safe in addition to being safe,” Ms. O’Connor said.
Ed Larson, who lives on Shell Landing Road, submitted the sketch that NCDOT engineers now plan to use as a basis for the redesign. He said residents of the neighborhood primarily turn toward Beaufort when they exit the subdivision.
“Ninety percent of the time they go to the local stores,” Mr. Larson said Thursday. “I got the plans for the road from the town hall, I looked at them and thought about the simplest way of having a means of egress from the neighborhood for the people here. What they had come up with really put a lot of people in danger.”
Mr. Larson said under the original plan the residential traffic and school buses that exit the subdivision would have had to cross two lanes of traffic, make a U-turn and then cross another 2 lanes in order to make a left turn into the business district. All those turns increased the potential accidents, he said.
He submitted the alternative plan about three weeks ago to NCDOT engineer Rob Arnold of the Division 2 Right Of Way Office, and also sent copies to Gov. Bev Perdue and the county’s legislators, Sen. Jean Preston and Rep. Pat McElraft.
Mr. Larson said his proposal was based on common sense.
“It was very obvious they were building a lot of things and tearing up a lot of things that would cost a lot of money and create hazardous traffic conditions,” he said. “It was pretty easy to come up with a new design.”
He said the state’s decision was “a good example of how elected officials can listen and help.”
Ben Day, another Shell Landing resident, has also been vocal in his opposition to the original NCDOT plan, speaking at a recent town planning meeting and writing letters to the editor about the design. He said Thursday that he was happy about NCDOT’s decision to change the design.
“It’s a real good plan and I’m happy with it,” Mr. Day said. “Far as I’m concerned, everybody in the community with their solid support backing our resistance to this unsafe plan to begin with is what made it work.”