This summer, contractors will be repaving Bridge Street in Elkin from the Yadkin River bridge up through Church Street, and state transportation officials are giving town commissioners a chance to change the street-lane set up if they wish to do so.
Dean Ledbetter, senior planning engineer for North Carolina Department of Transportation District 11, brought the options to changes to the town board Monday night.
While the changes are not required, Ledbetter said DOT want town officials to have a chance to make changes while resurfacing and restriping was taking place.
“We are proposing when Bridge Street is resurfaced going from four lanes to three lanes,” he said, noting that traffic studies have been done on the stretch of roadway through downtown.
In addition to taking Bridge Street down to three lanes from Church Street to the bridge, DOT also is proposing removing traffic lights and replacing them with all-way stops at most intersections such as Spring, Main and Market streets, and with two-way stops on side roads coming into Bridge in lighter intersections, like Standard Street.
“We do believe it would work and is in the best interest of the town,” Ledbetter told commissioners. “We just had a change in traffic volume, it’s not as heavy as it used to be. They used to all be coming to work at the same time and leaving at the same time, but now it is much more staggered. In most of our region, that’s what we’re seeing.”
At present, downtown has narrow lanes and the utility poles are close to the roadway, but he explained with three lanes there will be an opportunity for bike lanes and other landscaping to buffer the streets from the pedestrian walkways.
“Finally, from a pedestrian standpoint, when you walk from Spring Street back into downtown, the traffic is at your back and so close it makes you uncomfortable,” he said. “This proposal moves traffic for a five- to six-feet buffer and slows traffic down, because instead of faster traffic being able to stop, they are slowed by those going the speed limit.”
The all-way stops, Ledbetter said, make it easier for pedestrians to cross, because there are less lanes to navigate and room for the pedestrians between lanes.
Commissioner Terry Kennedy wasn’t convinced that all-way stops were a good idea, and warned Elkin Police Chief Monroe Wagoner to be ready to investigate more accidents. He also said he thinks the board should revisit the decision during its recent board retreat to remove the stoplight at Main and Front streets, which Elkin resident Teresa Howell voiced opposition to during the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting.
“What we’ve learned from our experience in West Jefferson and North Wilkesboro is we’ve seen a reduction in traffic accidents,” Ledbetter responded about similar changes already made in the Division 11 region. “It doesn’t mean someone is not going to run a stop sign, just like they might run a stoplight we’ve replaced. We’ve converted seven intersections in North Wilkesboro and three in West Jefferson, then Lansing called and wanted to get ride of their light.”
He said a traffic capacity study was done in downtown Elkin prior to the proposal, and it showed a delay in traffic flow of just 10 to 12 seconds during peak travel time. But he said travel time was quicker that at present during other times of the day, because there is no wait on the lights to change.
“If we don’t do it now while we’re resurfacing, we can look at it again in 10 to 15 years. It’s easier to do it when we are resurfacing,” he said.
The changes also give downtown the possibility for other uses, Ledbetter said, presenting a picture of the corners in West Jefferson where additional landscaping and benches were added for people to sit and gather to listen to music or eat a snack or rest.
Mayor Sam Bishop questioned the changes due to Bridge Street being a U.S. highway, but Ledbetter responded that West Jefferson also was a U.S. highway with 221 going through town.
Assistant Town Manager Adam McComb, filling in for Town Manager John Holcomb who was out with sickness, asked if the train crossing had been factored in to the analysis of traffic. But Ledbetter said he didn’t “picture a way the train track would impact it.”
Howell questioned whether the state had considered Bridge Street’s heavy traffic during detours from I-77 in the case of wrecks on the interstate, and Ledbetter said that hadn’t been counted, but that people should qualify how often that happens compared to quality of life.
With the resurfacing set for this summer, Ledbetter said a month for the board to consider the presented options wouldn’t be a problem.
The board members present said they would like input from two absent commissioners, Dr. Skip Whitman who was delayed due to traffic in Charlotte and Bob Norton, as well as from the town’s police and fire officials.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.