The quickly growing neighborhoods along N.C. 42 East are about five years away from their four-lane dream.
Nearly five miles of one of Johnston County’s busiest commuter routes will undergo a widening from two to four lanes, a project the N.C. Department of Transportation expects will cost more than $20 million.
DOT officials held a meeting June 30 at the Clayton Center for residents to review plans with engineers and talk timelines and headaches. Right-of-way acquisition will begin next month and last two years as DOT negotiates specific easements and land purchases along the corridor. The DOT earmarked $3.1 million for right-of-way in the project’s $20.3 million total budget.
The first phase of the project will widen the highway from U.S. 70 Business to Glen Laurel Road, taking about two years to complete. Project manager Jerry Page expects the second and final phase, widening from Glen Laurel to Buffalo Road, to begin in 2018. He said it would take at least three years to wrap up, slowed largely by the total replacement of the existing Neuse River bridge.
That bridge work looks to be the most significant construction planned for the widening project, but DOT project engineer Jay McInnis said it shouldn’t hamper commutes. The existing bridge will stay in place while most of the new bridge is built, he said. Then the old bridge will be torn down, and drivers will use two lanes of the new bridge while it’s being finished up.
“It’s being built wider than it really needs to be so traffic can be moved onto the new bridge while it’s under construction and the old bridge has been torn down,” McInnis said.
The meeting drew dozens of residents to the Clayton Center, many swapping stories of close calls on the speedy highway or tales of traffic woes at backed up intersections.
Heading east on 42, just past the Glen Laurel Road traffic signal, is the Fox Ridge neighborhood, arguably the most abused by the current state of the highway. Steve Wilson said he and other Fox Ridge residents can tell the new skid marks from the old ones at the entrance to their neighborhood, which is hidden by a hill just as the highway narrows. He said it’s hard to get out, and the project aims to cut out left turns completely, possibly tacking on minutes to already long commutes.
“It is what it is,” Wilson said.
The widening of the highway will virtually eliminate all left turns at intersections without traffic signals, but will add a half-dozen “bump outs” for U-turns. The DOT’s Jamille Robbins said the new N.C. 42 East will not only accommodate more cars, it will be safer.
“Left turns are the most dangerous movement motorists can make,” Robbins said.
Kathleen Stark said those left turns keep her in traffic during rush hour, and under the new design she’ll have to turn right and make a U-turn. She believes, though, that it might end up being faster.
“It’ll be a pain, but it may be a benefit to me,” Stark said.
Traffic projections expect the number of vehicles passing through most intersections to at least double by 2040. Much of that traffic comes from several intersections north of the Neuse River around East Clayton Elementary School, where some turns see more than 18,000 cars a day, a number expected to climb to 37,000 by 2040.
Even though Clayton’s growth is hard to anticipate at this point, the DOT engineers said building to four lanes is really the only recourse left to alleviate the highway’s traffic. After Buffalo Road, Page said, 42 East is just a two-lane road all the way to Wilson.
“It’ll move traffic,” Page said. “A four-lane highway is very efficient at moving traffic.”
Robbins said that by 2040, advancements in the auto industry, such as self-driving cars, could change how the state plans its transportation system.
“With the emergence of autonomous vehicles communicating with one another, it should increase the capacity of roadways,” Robbins said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson