Schools allow an F: Garner leaders wary of South Garner High traffic issues

kjahner@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

TOWN OF GARNER

— At a marathon council session, Garner leaders expressed particular concern regarding the future traffic situation near the planned South Garner High School.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation projects an “F” level of service for at least one intersection part of the day even after schools-funded upgrades in the area. F is the lowest level of service in an A-F grading system.

Wake County Public Schools will build the school in a lightly populated area just south of current town limits on land bordered by New Bethel Church, Hebron Church and Cliford roads.

“You’re sticking a town of 2,600 people on two narrow country roads,” Councilman Gra Singleton said, noting that the traffic situation in the area already backs up during commuting hours. “It’s going to make a bad situation even worse.”

A traffic study estimated that most of the 2,490 daily trips to and from the school will come through the intersection of New Bethel Church Road and N.C. 50 (Benson Road). Significant traffic will also flow through the intersection of White Oak and Hebron Church roads.

During the public hearing for the approval of the project, Hebron Church Road resident Alex Lee expressed concern about the existing traffic situation and what the school would add.

“These are farm-to-market roads. Timber Drive East, 2.5 miles away, is the nearest four-lane road. (N.C.) 50 is already a nightmare in the mornings and evenings,” said Lee, who said he and his mother have lived there since 1951. “In the mornings and afternoons, White Oak Road is difficult to enter.”

Planned upgrades mostly consist of turning lanes to facilitate through traffic so that intersections don’t become clogged by those waiting for turns.

On southbound N.C. 50, a second left turn lane onto New Bethel Church will be added, and New Bethel Church will get an extra receiving lane to accomodate it. An extra through lane and right turn lane will also be added to northbound N.C. 50 near that intersection. NCDOT will adjust the existing traffic signal to adopt to the new traffic patterns.

Some changes will also come to the confluence of Hebron Church, White Oak and Ackerman roads, but not as much as council members would like. A new left turn on northbound Hebron Church at White Oak -- which will extend back 100 feet past where Ackerman hits Hebron Church -- will let cars trying to turn right on White Oak bypass traffic waiting to turn left. Also, a left turn lane on northbound White Oak will allow cars to wait to turn onto Hebron Church without clogging northbound White Oak traffic.

“Even with recommended improvements, northbound Hebron Church Road will operate at Level of Service F during the a.m. peak,” town planning director Brad Bass said of projections.

NCDOT recommended monitoring the situation, but decided not to put a traffic light at the intersection.

“DOT made the final call. They did not want to put the signal in for just an a.m. peak hour,” said Joshua Reinke, a civil engineer for Ramey Kemp & Associates. “They’re not going to plan roads for a half-hour period of the day.”

As Councilman Buck Kennedy worked to articulate concerns over the intersection, Singleton cut him off.

“It’ll be a nightmare. Just go ahead and say it,” Singleton said.

A condition of the town’s approval of the site plan mandates WCPSS monitor the intersection as recommended by NCDOT. If either the intersection at Hebron Church and Ackerman or Hebron Church and White Oak require a signal when South Garner High has full enrollment in four or five years, WCPSS will split the cost evenly with the town.

Officials also brought up the pending reconstruction on New Bethel Road’s bridge over Mahlers Creek, but that project – which will close the bridge – is scheduled to be completed before the school opens.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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