Four-way stop at Millingport Road still possible, DOT says

The dangers and potential fixes for an intersection in Stanly County was the main topic of Thursday’s meeting of the Rocky River Rural Planning Organization (RRRPO).

Pate Butler, a regional traffic engineer with the Department of Transportation, presented to the committee a Highway Safety Improvement Plan (HSIP). She spoke to the group via Google Meet to make the presentation.

In the current HSIP, the minimum number of accidents for a bicycle/pedestrian was lowered from five to four.

The plan identified many hazardous locations, including 3,316 intersections, 909 hazardous sections, 391 bicycle/pedestrian incidents and 73 bridges.

Butler said the No. 1 most dangerous intersection in Stanly, as per the state DOT’s information, is at N.C. Highway 73 and Millingport Road. This intersection came up as part of a heated discussion between two Stanly commissioners at a recent meeting.

The intersection, Butler said, “became the most potentially hazardous, most critical (project) for us to look at first.”

In a slideshow presentation to the committee, which included representatives from several councils in Stanly, Butler described a traffic safety unit drawing of the various incidents which have happened at the location.

From Feb. 1, 2010 to Jan. 3, 2020, the intersection meets and exceeds all of the criteria used to identify it as an AWS (All-Way Stop) location. Of the 24 crashes at the intersection, 21 involved frontal impact crashes, considered to be “the most severe and result in the most severe injuries,” Butler said.

The 21 crashes included two Class A crashes (critical injury, life threatening, needing ambulance or helicopter transportation), three B crashes (obvious injury but hopefully not life threatening), nine C Crashes (minor injuries) and 10 PDO (property damage only) crashes.

However, Butler said, the results of the crashes were two A injuries, five B and 14 C injuries.

“There were some very severe injuries in those classes,” Butler said.

There are three ways to make an intersection safer, according to the engineer: traffic signals, an all-way stop and a roundabout.

Traffic signals address frontal crashes, but the amount of safety warrants (individual incidents) have to be on the side streets and not the main street, or N.C. 73 in this case. Signals also cost between $150,000 and $200,000.

Roundabouts are another solution, Butler said, but they take three years to complete and cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million. Also, while waiting for the roundabout to be finished, an interim solution like an AWS must be constructed first.

The all-way stops are for locations with less than 7,500 cars per day in rural intersections where six or more frontal crashes have occurred in a five-year period. The cost for an AWS is $20,000 to $30,000, including signs, pavement markings, advanced signs or actuated flashers on a sign. The Millingport intersection qualifies because of having 6,600 cars per day on N.C. 73 and between 1,700 and 2,900 cars on Millingport Road.

By installing an AWS, Butler said, crashes could be reduced by 72 to 87 percent. According to a report from the Evaluation Section of the state DOT, of 18 AWS sites in Division 10 (Stanly) and surrounding divisions, 17 sites showed a reduction on crashes. Each site averaged 13 fewer crashes, with a 65 percent reduction in crashes and a 78 percent reduction in crashes resulting in injury. Two fatalities and five Class A crashes were in the group prior to the AWS locations, and those numbers went to zero after the stops were put in.

The presentation also had a list of funded locations to be constructed in Division 10 (including Stanly, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Union and Anson counties). Of the 23 projects, only two were in Stanly: the aforementioned Millingport Road intersection and the intersection of N.C. 205 and Big Lick Road/Liberty Hill Church Road, just northwest of the Oakboro town limits.

Brett Canipe, the director of DOT Division 10, spoke to the committee in person sitting in the gallery. He said the AWS was “quick and efficient. We know it’s going to give us good results in preventing injuries, possibly preventing fatalities. It’s not something we can or should ignore, but we are looking at it as possibly an interim treatment.”

Canipe said a roundabout “would work very well there,” adding it works “in a similar way to slow cars down.”

Regarding a roundabout, he said “we think there might be a way to fund that in the future, but we know we need to start with the all-way stop because of (the intersection) being an identified safety concern.”

Butler said the Millingport location has not been looked at for a traffic signal because it does not have enough volume in terms of cars per day, saying the numbers were “significantly too low.”

The roads, as pointed out in the meeting by RRRPO’s Lee Snuggs, are owned by the DOT.

“(The DOT) take these numbers, and I can see why people feel inconvenienced by these stops, (but) public safety is a primary concern,” Snuggs said.

When asked if the AWS had been ruled out, Butler said the sign notifying people of the upcoming stop had been put out. Once the backlash came online, she said the DOT “wanted to address that first, but the all-way stop is still proposed…we have looked at it for a possible roundabout as the final installation.” She added, “we’ve identified with such a significant crash pattern, we still want to treat it now.”