Town leaders plan to hone in on two busy Main Street intersections, voting last week to spend more than $1 million preparing one of them for improvements in the next few years.
The town unanimously approved spending $1.3 million – what commissioner Jason Wunch called “one of the more aggressive transportation plans in recent memory” to go toward work at the intersection of Judd Parkway and Main Street.
Further down Main Street, they plan to look at possible work where Sunset Lake Road turns into Purfoy Road.
The town also will host a public hearing at its next meeting, starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 16, to discuss plans to widen Sunset Lake Road between the Brackenridge subdivision and North Main Street.
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That 3.8-mile stretch is one of the busiest in town during rush hour and will only get busier. The area along Sunset Lake Road is one of the town’s top priorities for development, and last week the Board of Town Commissioners approved rezoning 42 acres to clear the way for a new 125-home subdivision.
The town has planned for years to expand the Sunset Lake Road stretch to three lanes, but now the town wants residents’ input on making it a four-lane divided highway and asking developers to pay for some of the stretches that border subdivisions in the area.
Resident Shannon King and about three dozen other angry neighbors protested the plan for the 125 houses last week, citing the already congested road.
King said she lives near the intersection of Sunset Lake and Hilltop Needmore roads and often end up directing traffic and helping victims of rush-hour crashes before emergency responders arrive.
“Just last week, this was the scene. Us cooking dinner, it’s always the same,” King said. “The wheels squeak and the windows shake. ... This is what we see way too often.
“We have semis that come down that road and try to stop, way too often. Sometimes out front of our house. Cars go right under them.”
But Mayor John Byrne told the meeting’s audience that the town’s hands are largely tied with traffic issues, since the N.C. Department of Transportation oversees most roads in town.
“I understand what you’re saying, but it’s not one of the things our town necessarily deals with,” Byrne told one of the protestors.
He said the town has tried, but DOT funding has been nearly impossible to come by lately. The transportation budget has been strained, Byrne said, by efforts to keep tax rates low, combined with the rise of more fuel-efficient cars, which means less gas tax money for the state.
“We’ve gone down the road of saying, ‘Hey DOT, there’s a problem here. What are you going to do to fix it?’ ” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said at the meeting. “But as we’ve said tonight, DOT just doesn’t have the resources.”
As state funding has dwindled, towns like Fuquay-Varina have have found themselves looking elsewhere for help. Residents passed an $8 million bond in 2007 to help build Judd Parkway, and the town has been looking more to federal grants when using local funds just won’t be enough.
Widening the intersection of Judd Parkway and Main Street would cost nearly $5 million, which Mitchell said the town might be able to come up with if necessary.
However, he encouraged the town to only approve the initial $1.3 million for traffic studies, design specs and right-of-way purchases.
He said Fuquay-Varina can then apply for a grant for 50 to 70 percent of the remaining $3.5 million in construction costs, with the town paying the remaining 30 to 50 percent. Construction could begin by 2017.
Mitchell suggested the commissioners offer the full 50 percent match to better their chances of getting the grant.
“We’re competing against other projects for a small pot of money,” he said.
The other intersection they’re focusing on Main Street, where Sunset Lake Road turns into Purfoy Road, is not eligible for grants because the federal government doesn’t recognize Sunset Lake Road as a major thoroughfare.
So the town will ask one of the grant agencies for a review, with hopes it gets reclassified and can win grants in the future.
Byrne said that with state funds drying up and federal grants hard to come by – while some roads, like Sunset Lake, aren’t even eligible for the grants – the town must be creative about finding solutions.
“We need to comprehensively think about this,” Byrne said. “Because traffic is terrible.”