The median running through U.S. 70 Business is quite literally in the middle of some of the biggest traffic and safety issues on Clayton roadways.
In the past five years, the three-mile stretch from Shotwell Road to just east of N.C. 42 has seen more than 400 accidents, often at intersections without traffic signals, where confusion sometimes takes the right-of-way.
A new proposal by the N.C. Department of Transportation would make it so that every intersection from Bojangles to Nick’s Flippin Kids would have either a signal or a concrete island known as a directional island. The work would take the guesswork out of the intersections but would also make certain turns on U.S. 70 Business more complicated.
DOT engineer Jiles Harrell sought and received the Clayton Town Council’s endorsement to combine the intersection work with a project repaving the highway from the Wake County line to the Clayton bypass.
The intersection work alone stands to cost $2.5 million to $3 million. Because it’s out for bid, Harrell declined to quote the resurfacing price, but said it’s multimillion. And he added that combining the two projects would save between a half million and $850,000 by cutting out redundant work.
“From a benefit-cost ratio and the way we look at highway-safety funding, we believe this is somewhat of a home run for us,” Harrell said. “I don’t see any reason for it not to get funded should we decide to pursue.”
Directional islands are concrete islands that funnel traffic in specific directions, much like the one DOT put on the highway in front of Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q.
At the highway’s intersection with Shotwell Road, the DOT would build a more substantial median, cutting out the opportunity some drivers take to pull a U-turn over the low median before the light. It would also add a directional island at the intersection that has Gold’s Gym on one side of the highway and Speedway and KFC on the other. The island would make it impossible to cross U.S. 70 from that specific intersection.
A directional island would also go at the Fayetteville Street intersection, meaning cars looking to head east leaving Clayton High School would have to do a U-turn at the Robertson Street traffic light.
A traffic signal would go up east of Pizza Hut, leading into the Food Lion shopping center, and the DOT would build a substantial island in front of Venero’s. Finally, directional islands would go up at Astor Street and at the intersection east of Wildwood Drive.
“It’s the left-outs we’re trying to mitigate,” Harrell said. “The ingress access into the properties along the corridor are, for the most part, left unchanged. It’s the egress opportunities we find cause a lot of the issues, where you’re having to cross multiple lanes to get in the direction you’re trying to go.”
U.S. 70 Business would become safer, but also more complicated. Simply crossing from one side of the highway to the other would not longer be an option, except at traffic lights. But Harrell said mobility would still be there.
“There are options and multiple turning lanes available; U.S. 70 is still able to be utilized,” Harrell said. “We’re not trying to take any of that away.”
Councilman Bob Satterfield took issue with the intersection near Food Lion, where the suggested routes would take drivers through the parking lots of some of the businesses. He sought financial recourse for the property owners.
“The Town of Clayton don’t own those roads, the state don’t own those roads, so you’ve got us going through private property,” Satterfield said.
Harrell argued that drivers already use those parking lots and connecting roads to make their way to the highway. Satterfield said maybe so, but traffic was likely to increase substantially.
“It would not be our intent to maintain those (parking lots) at this time,” Harrell said.
The work would not address the perilous crossing Clayton High School students make to get from the school to McDonald’s, much to the disappointment of Councilman Butch Lawter. The Town Council wants crosswalks and pedestrian lights at the Robertson Street intersection.
“I see it every morning, the run for their lives across (the highway),” Lawter said. “Is there anything you can look at, seeing as how this is a safety project?”
Mayor Jody McLeod argued that students are going to cross the highway with or without a crosswalk and that it would be helpful to go ahead and build one.
“It is a safety issue,” McLeod said. “They’re going to cross the highway whether there are markings on the highway or not on the highway.”
Harrell said DOT was hesitant to put a crosswalk across a highway and suggested it might not offer much protection anyway.
“Even having a crosswalk there does not ensure that pedestrian is going to be able to safely cross,” Harrell said. “This is not a Hillsborogh Street (in Raleigh) environment where we have low speed and folks really looking out. Most people when they see that light are gunning it because they don’t want to sit there.”
Drew Jackson; 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson