NCDOT plan for safety improvements on U.S. 158 gets chilly (and heated) reception

By on April 21, 2023

The U.S. 158 safety improvement project map provided by NCDOT.

Two North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) public input meetings held at Powells Point Baptist Church on April 20 repeatedly devolved into shouting as residents vehemently expressed concerns over a planned roadway safety improvement project on the U.S. 158 stretch surrounding Edgewater Road.

About 80 people attended the 5 p.m. meeting and another 30 came for the 6 p.m. meeting, with about a dozen people from the first meeting staying for the second.

According to project design information, a $5.5 million “reduced conflict intersection” would be implemented to replace a segment of the highway’s center turn lane. Two stretches of raised, grassy medians and two designated “U-turn bulbs” would be located on the stretch of road between New Beach Road and 1,000 feet north of Edgewater Road in Powells Point.

Between May 1, 2012, and April 30, 2022, a total of 58 crashes were reported on that stretch of road, with 40 people injured and one fatality, according to NCDOT’s September 2022 crash analysis. Nearly 30% of the crashes involved vehicles making left turns.

The proposed reduced conflict intersection would allow left turns from U.S. 158 onto Edgewater Road, but left turns from Edgewater Road would require drivers to make a right, then a U-turn.

According to its tentative project schedule, NCDOT would complete its environmental document this August, begin right-of-way acquisitions this fall and start construction in fall 2024.

“The goal of this project is to help improve safety,” said Devyn Teates, consultant project manager with Ramey Kemp Associates (RKA), which is working with NCDOT on the project. She noted the project would reduce potential collisions possibilities from 32 “conflict points” to 14.

Teates gave brief presentations on the project at both the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. meetings, after which, NCDOT and RKA personnel stationed at each of three large maps around the room took questions. But she was regularly interrupted by attendees during the presentations.

Teates explained a probable scenario with the new intersection, following a blue car on the east side of the road that wanted to go south toward the bridge to Dare County, mapping its route on a projected map as it would turn right to go north, then use a U-turn bulb to make that left turn.

“That’ll work well on Saturdays and Sundays!” a woman said sarcastically, prompting laughter in the audience.

Attendees at both meetings yelled out for examples of when such intersections have been used in a tourist destination around multiple businesses. In both meetings, at least one attendee left midway through, slamming doors on the way.

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time in the county,” said Currituck County Commissioner Mike Payment about finding a traffic solution.

“From the county’s standpoint, commissioners have been getting phone calls and emails about traffic and the problems,” Payment noted. “We contacted DOT, and they were able to get the speed limit reduced [from 55 to 45 miles per hour]. But after that happened, we’re still getting phone calls and emails. We’ve asked them to come up with something that makes turning safer for everybody.”

Craig Midgett, NCDOT Division 1 division planning engineer, told the Voice before the meeting that reduced conflict intersections are prevalent in the state.

“[U.S.] 17 down to Williamston has one,” Midgett said. “Murfreesboro’s about to have one constructed in the near future. Raleigh, Charlotte, the bigger cities—they’re all over the place.”

“This is a proven design,” Ronnie Sawyer, deputy division engineer for NCDOT Division 1, told attendees. He said there have been other public input meetings on the same topic with “a lot of resistance” initially, but ultimately, the intersections were “found to be successful.”

But many at the two meetings contended that two lanes of nonstop summer weekend traffic would “never” let them make that left turn without a stoplight involved.

“You’re putting all these people’s lives in danger,” a woman said in the first meeting, gesturing around the room. “It’s not going to work.”

“Light controls traffic. This backs up traffic,” a man argued in the second meeting.

NCDOT staff, however, said the traffic coming out of Edgewater Road isn’t heavy enough for installation of a stoplight there.

Several attendees blamed the county, opining that the traffic woes started when Dollar General was built without a service road. One man asked if NCDOT could build that service road, to which staff replied they only work on state roads.

Some in the audience suggested waiting to see how the proposed Mid-Currituck bridge alleviates traffic in the area, but NCDOT staff said they have been sued again, so they can’t control or predict the court process regarding that.

“The do-nothing solution is not a solution,” said NCDOT Division 1 Engineer Clemmon “Win” Bridgers Jr.

Some at the meetings also asked how long it would take large trucks pulling equipment, including horse trailers, to make the U-turn, and if it would then be possible for them to make an immediate right to access First Flight, the veterinary hospital next to one of the turn bulbs.

NCDOT staff didn’t have immediate turn times, but assured them it would be possible, which did not seem to convince many.

“I have the business most directly affected,” Jessica Stumph, owner of First Flight Veterinary Hospital & Mobile Services, said. She added that she often does surgery with her back to the wall, which is going to be close to one of the U-turn bulbs, and she expressed fears of large trucks taking the turn too fast and crashing into her business, potentially killing her and her staff.

Stumph said car wrecks already take place in the ditch before her business’ front lawn, and the current design all but eliminates the front lawn. “Why can’t we consider moving the bulb down [the road]?”

In between meetings, Powells Point resident Maria Pridgen told the Voice that lower Currituck residents have been asking the county for a stoplight since 2017—ever since the water park was built—to slow down the traffic speeding through on the way to the beach.

Pridgen also said the project also fails to take into consideration the “deadly curve” just to the north of the mapped area, which she said means people won’t be able to stop in time for the U-turning vehicles. “How is that the smartest place to put it?”

NCDOT personnel throughout the meetings encouraged people to write their comments on paper handouts and put them in the onsite comment box or type them online on the form, since spoken comments were not being recorded.

It wasn’t immediately clear how or how much the project would change, given the public input.

NCDOT is accepting public comments on the proposed project until May 5. People can email us158-edgewaterrd@PublicInput.com or call 512-580-8850, code 5674 to comment.

 


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Comments

  • Bill

    Medians on this side of the bridge are needed too. It’s gotten too darn busy to have a turning lane.

    Friday, Apr 21 @ 1:57 pm
  • surf123

    Parts of New Jersey are no left turns as well, but I don’t know if that compares. I do know that nut jobs yelling and talking over a presentation need to be shown the door as they are of no help and something needs to be done so nothing is not a solution.

    Friday, Apr 21 @ 8:50 pm
  • Dano

    Flashing red lights at 45 mph signs and speed cameras. People think 45 means they can go 60. Slowing people down is a lot cheaper than building something. Yes you still need a turn lane because that is not a limited access road.

    Friday, Apr 21 @ 8:57 pm
  • Da-NO

    Speed cameras? Yeah, then we can put parking meters at all the beach accesses and ticket all the vehicles parallel parked on the residential side streets. And maybe each town could require you to buy a tag to access the beach. It will be paradise. Please, please govern me harder!!

    Friday, Apr 21 @ 10:57 pm
  • Beach Bubba

    Stupid people are going to do stupid things. Its called “natural selection”. And, to surf123, this ain’t New Jersey! But, unfortunately, it’s becoming more like it every year.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 1:22 am
  • The King of Harbinger

    U Turns work just fine.
    The hysterical nature of people never ceases to amaze me.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 6:32 am
  • WBN

    The answer is not U turns. Enforce the 45 MPH limit. I slow down to 45 in that zone and constantly get passed by cars doing 55 MPH plus. There is never any law enforcement present when they are needed.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 8:03 am
  • Mary

    Put in a stoplight! There is way TOO much speeding traffic on 158 for U- bulbs. I’ve used the U-bulb on Hwy 17 near Williamston countless times and it’s a dangerous…idiotic method to control traffic …and that’s a RURAL highway. There is NO way they would work with the continuous flow of already dangerous, speeding traffic on US 158. It would be horrible! Just put in a stoplight!

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 8:31 am
  • lippy

    Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement….the police need to dedicate patrol cars to this area for a time until drivers, local and visitor, know they cannot get away with speeding.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 9:15 am
  • Greg

    A median is needed on US 158 from MP 0 to MP 16. Tbe current highway design completely neglects safety. Accidents are frequent due to the center “demolition derby” lane

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 12:23 pm
  • Grandyguy

    Surf123 – Who cares what they do in Jersey.

    Da-NO – you definitely win this comment section!

    Mary – yes a stoplight would help without question. I would imagine Currituck can afford one freakin stoplight.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 5:02 pm
  • Smokey

    I’m from Jersey. No more u-turns. Stop the speeding. Take out the death trap center turn lanes.

    Saturday, Apr 22 @ 8:14 pm
  • Don't care how, but something needs to be done

    I’m not from Jersey, but jug handles do work in heavy turn areas…IF proper signs are in place well in advance of the “handle,” because we are not used to this traffic pattern. Let’s face it we do have a jug handle bridge..although not quite the same.
    If it saves lives and people having hail Mary moments just to turn left I think it’s worth some consideration. Seen/heard too many close encounters for my comfort level, ( i have heard people cannot even see oncoming traffic make that turn) not to mention some of the worst accidents I have seen in my lifetime. NCDOT will always get backlash when they don’t plan for growth in advance, rightfully so. Urban planners, who dropped the ball? And are you planning for future growth? Hope so, death, injury, and accidents shouldn’t be your guinnea pig.

    Sunday, Apr 23 @ 8:19 am
  • Chris

    Smokey you know why it’s a death trap. Too many people from jersey live here now have a nice day

    Sunday, Apr 23 @ 8:27 am
  • Shirley Crank

    In talking with people that live in other areas where this has been implemented they say it hasn’t been all that better safety wise and unless the stat police are going to enforce the speed not just ticketing the locals but alll the out of staters they are just going to make a already bad situation worse. I travel this road both day and night and I can tell you right now out of towers don’t even acknowledge the 45 speed zone and a lot of the cop that work on the beach but live over here don’t follow it either.

    Sunday, Apr 23 @ 10:23 am
  • Mark A Williamson

    The U turns are all up and down 17, they work well as far as I know

    Sunday, Apr 23 @ 3:46 pm
  • Smokey

    Chris. Lived here longer than Jersey. Hated it. Have a great day.

    Monday, Apr 24 @ 8:25 am
  • Mike Raphone

    These U-Turn bulbs would be an absolute failure on US158 with the type of traffic it has on weekends. Now the backups would occur, and flow out into 158 with the amount of cars waiting for the never ending mob of cars coming to, and from the beach. If they INSIST on doing these things, get the one bulb AWAY from First Flight Veterinary. There are plenty of other places to do this.

    Mark A Williamson, you are correct. From Williamston to Washington they are great. However, US17 doesn’t see the crazy amount of traffic that US158 does on weekends.

    Lack of enforcement is what brought us the new 45 mph zone, and it still prevails now. As a former traffic engineer, my recommendation for that problem vs. reducing the speed limit would have been “Consult with Currituck Sheriff’s office, and NCSHP”.

    Monday, Apr 24 @ 12:08 pm
  • To BE OBX'r

    Stop wasting our time and tax payer money! Install a Stop Light, with turning arrows for about $250k – there, just saved you millions in stupid Government overspending! Keep It Simple Stupid – no need to over engineer everything.

    Monday, Apr 24 @ 1:04 pm
  • WindyBill

    Many visitors are Travel Fatigued. Hopelessly dangerous at any speed. Need a billboard at the Currituck rest stop “Stay Alive!” “Change Drivers Here”.

    Monday, Apr 24 @ 1:19 pm