By Tiffany Thompson, News Editor
Wednesday, September 14, 2011 —
Residents and officials in Locust are concerned about proposed changes to N.C. 24-27 that could affect not only travel in the city, but could also have a profound impact on Locust’s economy.
North Carolina Depart-ment of Transportation (DOT) decided to widen N.C. 24-27 throughout the county due to its designation as a Strategic Highway Corridor.
For Locust, the widening project caused the city to have to relocate its downtown with the strategic corridor running through the heart of the city.
Now, DOT has completed a Comprehensive Transpor-tation Plan that proposes designating N.C. 24-27 as an expressway. Though the plan remains, at the moment, in the proposal stage, several municipalities throughout the county have approved it. Locust officials, however, are opposed to the idea of designating the highway as an expressway.
“We feel that when it is designated as an expressway, it will kill businesses here because people won’t be able to get to them,” Councilman Mike Hinson said.
“Stanly County was designated a distressed county several years ago, and the unemployment rate remains high. If the county is already distressed, why would you decide to do something that would take more jobs away?”
According to DOT standards, an expressway would consist of a median in the center of the four lanes, and limited left-turn access. There would also be limited use of traffic lights and driveway access.
Hinson gave the example that, if N.C. 24-27 were to become an expressway, a parent, who lives on the western side of the city, would not be able to turn left into Locust Elementary School parking lot when taking their child to school. But, he added, the same would be true no matter which direction of travel if consumers wanted to turn left into local businesses. The left turn would not be available except at approved areas.
He also explained that several intersections within the city are treacherous as they are, even with traffic lights.
“By removing the traffic lights it would be virtually impossible for residents to turn onto N.C. 24-27, on roads like Meadow Creek Church Road and N.C. 200,” Hinson said.
While Jamal Alavi, a transportation engineering supervisor for the transportation planning branch of DOT, confirmed that an expressway would limit left turns, he also explained that the designation, if it is approved, could be as much as three decades away.
“Left turns would only be where they are permitted and there would be a grass median in the center. This would be a much safer facility with speed limits set at approximately 45 mph,” Alavi said.
“People need to understand that this is a long range plan for 30 years in the future. The changes aren’t going to happen tomorrow.”
He added that even if the proposal was approved, when it came time to make the changes, DOT would have to take a look again at the area and decide if an expressway would be the best decision.
Hinson explained that designating the highway as an expressway could also jeopardize the safety of those residents who walk along the sidewalks that have recently been installed along the street.
“Our residents use these sidewalks a lot. If there is an increase in traffic or speed along [N.C.] 24-27, there would be a genuine concern for their safety,” Hinson said.
Alavi also explained that instead of designating the stretch of N.C. 24-27 through Locust as an expressway, there is the option to create a bypass either to the north or the south of the city and keep the main street through the city as it is. Hinson believes that a bypass would not help the city either, though, because he believes the businesses would follow the bypass and the city would lose them.
A section option for the city, according to Alavi, is to still designate N.C. 24-27 as an expressway and then create access roads that run parallel to the expressway.
“There is the option, if DOT could obtain the right of ways, to create access roads with the highway in the middle,” Alavi said.
The city of Locust will have a public hearing Sept. 15 in the council meeting chambers to allow the public the opportunity to discuss the proposals in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan, after which the council would have the opportunity to approve or deny the plan.
Alavi explained that if the city were to deny the plan, Locust could be left out of the planning area because they would have to approve the plan to be included. He also explained that if the city were to adopt the plan, that at any time they could request a revision or amendment to the plan that would take into account any transportation changes in the area.
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