MOREHEAD CITY — A recent study of Highway 24 through Carteret and Onslow counties revealed there are a number of potential fixes to improve safety and mobility along the corridor, but not everyone in the county is on board with the recommended projects.
The county transportation committee met Wednesday at the Crystal Coast Civic Center to learn about results of the Highway 24 corridor study and consider potential projects related to the roadway. The committee, comprised of representatives from around the county, also discussed other potential projects to submit for scoring in the 2023-32 State Transportation Improvement Program, but took no action this month to formally endorse any one project.
Most of Highway 24 is a five-lane highway with two lanes in each direction and a shared center turning lane. NCDOT Division 2 corridor development engineer Diane Hampton said the existing design is dangerous and the corridor needs greater access control to improve safety.
“You can turn left wherever you want to … the left turns are what cause the accidents, generally,” she said. “Without control, everybody’s turning wherever and nobody knows what anyone else is doing.”
Ms. Hampton said the recommended solution is what is known as a reduced conflict interchange, also called a superstreet. A superstreet design eliminates dangerous left turns by separating the travel directions by a raised median, forcing drivers who want to cross traffic to a dedicated turning lane.
“It may not be as convenient as everyone wants, but it does funnel the traffic to a safe location and allows you more control of turning movements,” she said. “It also keeps your traffic flowing, you don’t have as much congestion. It just works a lot better.”
A superstreet was constructed on Radio Island last year to improve safety there after Beaufort’s new high-rise bridge opened, and Ms. Hampton said the design is becoming increasingly common in the state and nation.
The proposed superstreet design for Highway 24 involves two travel lanes in each direction separated by a 23-foot raised concrete median with a mountable curb for emergency vehicle access. Dedicated turn lanes, some of which may be signalized, would be placed at strategic intersections with extra room for U-turns. Sidewalks and multi-use paths may be constructed in some sections, and designated crosswalks would make it safer for pedestrians to cross traffic, as well.
Ms. Hampton noted the Highway 24 corridor is approximately 27 miles long, running from the intersection with Highway 70 in Morehead City to Highway 172 in Onslow County. She said a project encompassing the entire length of roadway would be unlikely to receive funding because of its large scope, so the study broke up the highway into nine smaller segments. A portion of the roadway in Swansboro already has a superstreet project funded.
Also included in the scope of the Highway 24 corridor study was a look at the road’s intersection with Highway 58. Ms. Hampton said there is an intersection improvement project scheduled to open to construction bids this October, but the intersection will eventually need a major overhaul to accommodate the anticipated increase in traffic volume over the next few decades.
“That one is more of a Band-Aid project, it’s not a long-term solution, but it’s already funded,” she said “…It may help in the short term, but 25 years from now, we’re going to need something bigger and better.”
While any project the committee selects must go through the state’s rigorous, multi-year strategic prioritization process, Ms. Hampton said she feels confident the proposed designs would score well enough to receive funding. The corridor study’s consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., will submit the proposed projects to NCDOT for pricing estimates later this month.
The transportation committee generally seemed in favor of the proposed improvements, but the town of Cape Carteret recently rescinded its support for such a project within its bounds. Town Manager Zach Steffey said he has met extensively with NCDOT representatives and the town’s constituents, and he feels the proposed design would harm small businesses and put a strain on the town.
However, Robin Comer, a county commissioner and representative from the western end of the county, cautioned it may be short-sighted not to include the entire roadway for improvements.
“We’re trying to get this whole corridor open, it doesn’t make sense to have a bottleneck in a place that’s already bottlenecked up,” he said.
The transportation committee’s next step is to narrow down the projects it wants to submit to the STIP for scoring by the end of April. Project scores will be released in February 2021, at which time the county will revisit the projects and assign additional points, with the highest-scoring projects ultimately receiving funding.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.