In a rural corner of Wake County, where two state highways meet near the Franklin County line, drivers will soon experience something more commonly found in town: a roundabout.
The N.C. Department of Transportation is building the roundabout at the intersection of N.C. 98 and N.C. 96, a few miles east of Wake Forest. There are numerous roundabouts in the county already, but nearly all of them in suburban subdivisions and shopping centers and places such as Hillsborough Street in Raleigh and Main Street and South Avenue in Wake Forest.
“It will be different, alright, to have one out here in the country,” said Danny Frazier, who watches contractors working on the new roundabout through the front windows of Frazier’s Store, which his father Roy has run since 1959. Contractors expect to finish the roundabout by Thanksgiving.
There has been a four-way stop at the intersection of N.C. 98 and N.C. 96 for several years. But as traffic has increased, DOT decided a roundabout would be safer even as it does a better of job of keeping traffic moving, said Ben Upshaw, the project engineer.
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“It will process cars faster,” Upshaw said. “They don’t have to come to a full stop. They can yield and hop right in.”
Frazier remembers when there were only two stop signs here, halting traffic on N.C. 98 as cars on N.C. 96 breezed through at 55 mph or more. When cars collided, it was usually serious.
Those high-speed crashes largely went away after NCDOT added stop signs on N.C. 96 about a decade ago, Frazier said. But there were still enough accidents – 38 between 2009 and 2014 – that NCDOT began looking at ways to make the intersection safer, Upshaw said.
NCDOT considered a traffic light, Upshaw said, but the state would need to significantly widen the road to include left-turn lanes. In addition, the existing intersection has four short ramps for right turns that give it an unusual diamond shape that the new roundabout will largely fit inside.
“That larger footprint allowed us to accommodate a roundabout without significant property impacts,” Upshaw said. “I think that was one of the reasons people quickly looked to a roundabout as an alternative here.”
John Cyrus, owner of John’s Garage across the intersection from Frazier’s Store, has been fixing cars here since 1967 and says he’s skeptical that the roundabout will alleviate the backups that now occur at rush hour. Cyrus says traffic has probably doubled in the last five or six years and that cars coming out of Wake Forest on N.C. 98 can back up a mile or more in the evenings.
“It’ll probably help some,” he said. “But I don’t think it will do everything they say it will.”
At Frazier’s, where along with soda, cigarettes, gas and other convenience store fare you can also get tools and a pair of work boots or gloves, Danny Frazier says “it’s anybody’s guess” if the roundabout will be an improvement. But as developers keep building subdivisions along N.C. 98, he doesn’t think it will be around long.
“It will change again in the next few years anyway, the way Wake Forest is growing,” he said.