Huge drawings of proposed changes to Bickett Boulevard captured attention at hearing
LOUISBURG -- Project consultants and State Department of Transportation engineers say their plans will make the main artery through Louisburg safer.
Residents, motorists and property owners are concerned that the improvements will limit access to their businesses and either take property or severely limit their ability to use it.
The project will do two things:
• Convert Bickett Boulevard from four lanes plus a center turn lane into a four-lane, limited access highway with a central median from Burke Boulevard to Nash Street (NC 56 East);
• Widen Bickett Boulevard -- from Nash Street north to the Main Street intersection -- from two lanes to a four-lane highway with a median.
"We're in the very early stages," said Project Consultant Steve Brown. "What you see here represents probably about an 8-percent conceptual design level.
"This is just to get the basic principles of a couple of alternatives out there and get feedback before we go too far with something that we don't need to go forward with."
The state has proposed three options to achieve their goal.
Alternative One proposes traditional widening and conventional intersection improvements with a single U-turn on the corridor, south of Industrial Drive.
Alternative One widens the road and creates a median, but it leaves intersections, generally, as-is.
Alternative Two proposes use of Reduced Conflict Intersection principles, limiting left turns at intersections and routing traffic to U-turns, one heading south on Bickett Boulevard in front of Toney Ace Hardware; one heading north at Franklin Plaza Shopping Center; one heading south at Shannon Village Shopping Center; one heading north on Bickett just past Oak Street; one heading south at the same section of Bickett near Industrial Drive as Alternative One proposes; and one heading north at Ford Circle.
Reduced Conflict Intersections result in a 46-percent reduction in crashes at unsignalized intersections, compared to conventional intersections, according to a report to DOT in 2010.
Also, there is a 15 percent reduction in crashes at signalized intersections, compared to conventional intersections, according to DOT.
Alternative 3 proposes roundabouts at three major intersections, the convergence of Bickett/N.C. 39 and Bunn Road, Bickett/N.C. 56 and E. Nash Street, and Bickett/N.C. 561/Waddell Street/Justice Street.
According to DOT, after roundabouts replaced traditional intersections across the state, total crashes were down 46 percent, fatal and injury crashes were down 76 percent, and front-impact/head-on crashes were down 75 percent.
Right now, DOT said, existing traffic is between 8,600 and 23,600 vehicles per day along Bickett, from Burke Boulevard to Main Street. By 2040, that traffic is expected to increase to between 11,000 vehicles per day and 30,200 vehicles per day.
Also, there were 402 crashes reported between May 2013 and April 2018, the majority of them -- 205 -- were frontal impacts.
"The purpose of this project is to [improve traffic congestion]," Brown said. "It's not at an intolerable level right now, but it's going to grow in the future.
"And there are safety concerns along this corridor with that left-turn lane," he said.
"... So, why do we need it?" Brown asked. "Traffic is forecasted to increase enough where we need improvements and we have what you would call an elevated number of crashes and the majority of those are head-on."
While Alternatives Two and Three, in particular, offer safety features, the restricted roadway is expected to create some practical issues for businesses, particularly those who rely upon tractor-trailer truck traffic to make deliveries.
As an example, truck traffic heading north to a series of businesses at or near Golden Leaf Drive, town officials and staff said, would have to travel north to Franklin Plaza to effectively make a U-turn to get back to those businesses under Alternative Two.
Under Alternative Three, those trucks would have to travel north to the Bickett/N.C. 39/Bunn Road roundabout to turn around and get back to those buildings.
Even with Alternate One, that truck traffic would have to try to navigate an unwieldy turnaround at N.C. 39
"I had three phone calls in about seven minutes right before I got here," said Louisburg Town Administrator Jonathan Franklin. "... [Businesses near Golden Leaf Drive] have a lot of truck traffic that needs to take a left turn.
"And, with all these options, they wouldn't be allowed to do that," Franklin said. "They wanted me to make it pretty clear they don't like any of these.
"And, they're one of our biggest industries in town."
A solution, Franklin offered, would be to shorten the proposed median, allowing for left and right turns at that intersection.
Louisburg Mayor Karl Pernell echoed that sentiment.
"They're one of our biggest employers in town and we need to work with them," Pernell said.
Last week's meeting was designed to solicit input, verbally but, most importantly, in writing.
Brown and DOT Project Engineer Zahid Baloch and their teams will take that input to complete a design to improve safety and address as many concerns as they can, the duo said.
The timeline for the $35.1 million project has the DOT completing its environmental document this coming summer, then having a second public meeting by the summer or fall of 2020 -- when they've incorporated input and tweaked their design.
Following that, they would begin the process of acquiring right-of-way and construction on the two-and-a-half to three-year project would begin in the spring of 2023.
"I think we are at a good point [to plan improvements]," Baloch said. "This corridor is not really developed yet.
"But, in the coming years, it's going to be more and more businesses coming.
Comments can be submitted and the proposed maps can be viewed at: https://publicinput.com/US-401-Louisburg