Many at forum say don't change Statesville Boulevard
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - Tempers flared at times Thursday night when residents debated how, and even whether, to change lane markings on Statesville Boulevard when the state repaves the road this spring. "Everybody's opinion is valuable in this process," said City Councilman Brian Miller, who suggested the public workshop. "You may not agree with it, but let's respect everyone's opinion." Roughly 80 people turned out for the workshop at Milford Hills United Methodist Church, about 30 more than expected. City leaders were pleased with the level of participation and thanked the N.C. Department of Transportation for delaying the paving project until the spring, giving the city six months to decide whether to restripe Statesville Boulevard from Innes Street to Jake Alexander Boulevard. Many longtime residents said leave the road as it is - four lanes with speed limits of 35 mph and 45 mph. Others suggested lowering the speed limit throughout to 35 mph, installing stoplights at troublesome intersections or adding crosswalks for pedestrians. The most animated discussion, however, came when debating the "road diet" suggested in the city's comprehensive bicycle plan. A vocal minority of attendees supported turning the boulevard into a three-lane road, including a center turn lane and dedicated bike lanes on both sides. Most people opposed the road diet, and some said there should be no bikes on Statesville Boulevard. In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. Bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the same regulations governing a motorist. Many participants said they came to oppose the road diet and bike lanes and wanted to vote on the issue. "There are no specific proposals or a design," said Joe Morris, the city's director of Community Planning Services. "All options are on the table. You can talk about all options you desire." Participants broke into six groups to study a map of the area and list concerns with Statesville Boulevard. Bike lane advocates said changing the boulevard into two travel lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes would slow down traffic. But opponents said cyclists would be in danger, and bike lanes could cause problems with garbage collection and emergency vehicles. Many attendees talked about the regular occurrence of rear-end collisions on the boulevard, including one man who said he's been rear-ended twice while waiting to turn into his driveway. Trouble spots along the boulevard were listed as intersections with streets including McCoy, Welch, East Colonial, Brandon, Brenner and Milford. Several people expressed concerns about getting into and out of the future Rowan Hospice House, going up on Statesville Boulevard. No decisions were made Thursday night. City planners will host another meeting at the church in a few weeks to present a summary of ideas and gather more feedback, City Council will hear a report on the workshop at 4 p.m. Tuesday but will not vote. Ultimately, the state maintains the road and will have the final say. In the 1960s, the city begged N.C. DOT to widen Statesville Boulevard to four lanes, when the road was U.S. Highway 70, said Dan Mikkelson, city engineer. The road did not develop as anticipated, Mikkelson said. Highway 70 now turns and follows the Highway 601 bypass, and the traffic count on Statesville Boulevard has not increased in 10 years, he said. In 1999, the road carried 17,000 vehicles per day. That's down to between 13,000 and 14,000 vehicles per day. The 85th percentile speed on Statesville Boulevard is about 50 mph, or 5 mph over the posted speed limit of 45 mph. A section of the road closer to West Innes Street is 35 mph. "This is very important that we get feedback," Miller said. "We can't make a decision if we don't know what folks have in mind." The repaving project will take about three weeks once it starts.Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.