North Carolina DOT gives presentation to Stanly commissioners about four-way stops

At Tuesday’s budget meeting of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, representatives from the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) gave a presentation to the board about a proposed four-way stop at N.C. Highway 73 and Millingport Road.

Pate Butler, a regional traffic engineer with the DOT, gave a presentation nearly identical to the one she gave at the most recent meeting of the Rocky Rural River Planning Organization.

Butler said reports of potentially hazardous locations come to DOT in different ways, including citizen requests, observations from DOT staff, local law enforcement and the department’s Highway Safety Improvement Plan (HSIP).

The plan, she added, is to “provide continuous and systematic process that identifies, reviews and addresses specific traffic safety concerns throughout the state.”

Butler said the DOT looks at the history of a rural intersection over a 10-year period for the amount of front-impact crashes, considered the most severe, and ranks the injuries of people involved in the wreck. An “A” grade is the most severe, life-threatening injuries, requiring an ambulance or helicopter transportation. “B” injuries are serious but not life-threatening, like a broken bone, and “C” injuries are not serious, such as a scratch.

The Millingport Road-N.C. 73 intersection, according to the report, has had 24 crashes in the past 10 years, with 21 identified as a frontal crash. Of the injuries stemming from those 24 crashes, two “A,” five “B” and 14 “C” injuries occurred.

Butler also mentioned three ways of dealing with intersections: all-way stops (AWS), traffic signals and roundabouts. Traffic signals, she said, reduce angle crashes by an average of 58 percent but increase rear-end collisions by 43 percent.

“Traffic signals cause more crashes than actually occur prior to their installation. That is because people don’t anticipate having to stop…we have to factor all that in when calculating benefit to cost. Basically, the traffic signal does not give you nearly the benefit the other two would,” Butler said.

Traffic signals take two years to fund, design and construct, she added.

An all-way stop reduces crashes with injury between 72 and 87 percent, Butler noted. They have a minimal cost and a quick implementation period.

Roundabouts take three years to construct, she said, adding an interim treatment like an AWS must be constructed before the roundabout.

Commissioner Bill Lawhon asked Butler if traffic backing up to Millingport School would be a concern for the AWS. Butler said the AWS works as long as the average daily traffic (ADT) does not get above 7,500.

The rules of a four-way stop, with drivers taking turns to the car on the right, makes the AWS almost like a roundabout, Butler said.

“Even if somebody runs the stop sign, it forces everybody to a lower speed.”

When Lawhon asked about a public hearing for the project, Butler said DOT typically does not have a public hearing for projects costing less that $150,000. She said she had a sizeable folder of public comments and concerns about the Millingport project, but said the AWS is “a proven treatment to address the crash history at this location.”

Once DOT has identified a location with a crash history, she added, it’s DOT’s “job and obligation” to not allow the location to go untreated.

When asked by Chairman Tommy Jordan about any direct requests for treatment of the location by a Stanly resident, Butler said typically she does not get direct requests.

Jordan said by his calculations, two A crashes in 10 years averages to about one every five years, and to see a 78 percent improvement in that would take until 2030 to see if it works.

The after period to see if the AWS is working, Butler said, is three years, which Jordan said it would be a 100 percent reduction if there were no A crashes in three years.

Butler said that “somebody didn’t go home” from an A level crash, which Jordan said they did go home because there was no fatality.

She responded: “It was not a fatality, but it was a severe crash.” Butler later said even if an intersection had only a pattern of C crashes, “we’d still treat them that way because they are injuries and we can prevent those injuries.”

Crash reduction factors, she said, are based on national studies using data from across the country.

“We combine them in Raleigh and that’s how they give us the numbers to go by,” Butler said.

Jordan said: “We’re not very much known for doing what California or New York does.”

The chairman later added, “I’m going to appeal to you personally. I wish you wouldn’t do it,” referring to the AWS.

Butler said, “Unfortunately, once we identify a location, if we don’t treat it, we’re liable for anything that happens beyond that. Because we were made aware of the location…if we chose not to do it, that would make us or the department liable.”

Commissioner Mike Barbee asked what would happen if the average daily traffic went above 7,500. Butler said “if the traffic increases along the route and that treatment no longer works, we can make adjustments.” Butler said the number in 2019 was 6,600, and Jordan said, per his looking online, the 2020 number was down to 5,800.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto, who serves on the Rocky River Rural Planning Organization (RRRPO) board, mentioned delay times he experienced at traffic signals that morning in downtown Albemarle. He said after listening to the presentation several times, it “made sense. You guys are the traffic experts and I would hate to do any type of resolution (against the AWS).”

Jordan later asked about if a roundabout was in the plan for the location. Butler said it was not. She added, “we could look into a roundabout, but we don’t have the funding at this time.” She later reiterated, “it was not planned. It is not in the books.”

The chairman later said, “to be clear, a lot of people reach out to this board to say, ‘You know, you guys fix stuff.’ No county board has any sway with DOT…we have no more authority than to ask (DOT) to stop something. You’re here today as a courtesy, but we have no ability to affect North Carolina state-maintained roads.”

Jordan asked citizens wishing to email their thoughts about the all-way stop to do so either to DOT or Lee Snuggs, the RRRPO chairman.