Alex Rickard, deputy director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, is right. New and wider roads are just one way to ease traffic congestion. Smart land-use planning is another tool and perhaps a better one.
Mr. Rickard was on hand recently when CAMPO invited Johnstonians to weigh in on study of transportation demands here. One point he made: Traffic eventually fills every available lane.
Even an eight- or 10-lane Interstate 40 would become congested over time, Mr. Rickard said. “Right now, I-40 gets clogged up in the morning when everyone is going to work,” he said. The same happens when commuters head home at the end of the day.
But a wider I-40 would encourage even more people to live in Johnston County, Mr. Rickard said. “We widen it to eight and 10 lanes and now people can live farther down I-40 and still get to work,” he said. “ So you widen it, it gets better, and eventually it starts to choke back down.”
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Local policy makers – county commissioners, town councilmen – can help, Mr. Rickard said. “It’s not about building new roads,” he said. “It’s actually more on the development-policy side.”
Mr. Rickard was referring specifically to Archer Lodge, Johnston County’s newest town and a blank slate in land-use planning terms. But his point is relevant to any town or county seeking to avoid or at least postpone traffic congestion.
Most notably, we think, Johnston commissioners and town leaders across Johnston can encourage self-contained communities, because people living in such communities don’t have to drive as much or as far as folks in traditional subdivisions.
Take, for example, the folks who live in Flowers Plantation and Riverwood Athletic Club, both near Clayton. They can buy groceries, dine out and run many errands without venturing onto a major roadway, or if they do have to venture out onto a major roadway, it’s not for very long. Folks in Riverwood can even send their kids to elementary and middle school without leaving their subdivision. This has the benefit of taking some pressure off of major thoroughfares like N.C. 42 and U.S. 70 Business.
To that end, county commissioners and town leaders in Johnston should make it as easy as possible to build self-contained neighborhoods like Flowers Plantation and Riverwood. They could, for one, have an expedited approval process for such developments. (We’d stop short of mandating such developments, because if a developer still wants to build an estate subdivision, like Portofino in Clayton, he should have that option.
Based on real estate transactions in Johnston, homebuyers like Flowers Plantation and Riverwood. No doubt, the variety of housing is a draw, along with quality. Butwe suspect Flowers Plantation and Riverwood are popular too because they are so convenient. Who wouldn’t want a grocery store in his backyard?
Convenience has its limits, of course, which is to say that even in Flowers Plantation and Riverwood, most folks still have to go on a major roadway to get to work. N.C. 42 East on a weekday morning looks like someone ordered an evacuation of Flowers Plantation. Those folks, of course, are simply going to work.
For that reason, the state will have to keep building new roads and adding lanes to the likes of I-40 and N.C. 42. But that doesn’t mean local government can’t make Johnston County an attractive place for employers. The good news is that employers like Novo Nordisk and Grifols are expanding here. Incentives from county government no doubt helped, but we suspect low taxes, solid infrastructure and a strong community college helped convince those employers to add jobs here. County leaders should continue to make sure Johnston is an attractive to place to do business, and the county’s towns should be mindful of their taxes, utility rates and infrastructure too.
No one wants to be on Interstate 40 at 7:30 on a weekday morning. County and town leaders should do everything in their power to make that possible.