Man still fighting for turn lane
Perry Barbee has fought the good fight with the N.C. Department of Transportation and lost.
So it wasn’t surprising to see him walk into the newsroom recently and make his case to me ó no doubt, a last resort ó hoping a story might put enough public pressure on the DOT to rethink its position.
I hate to tell him it probably won’t happen.
Barbee has lobbied long and hard for a median crossover on U.S. 70 that would serve Hildebrand Road, where he and his wife live on a small farm. Their part of Hildebrand Road serves about 25 families and stretches between U.S. 70 and the road to West Rowan High.
As most everyone knows, contractors for DOT have spent many years widening the 20-mile distance between Salisbury and Statesville from two to four lanes.
The new, divided highway is about 80 percent complete between the two cities. The last section now being widened extends from Cleveland to the Rowan-Iredell line.
By far the most controversial aspect of the road widening has been the inclusion of a median separating the directions of travel. In Barbee’s area, it’s a grass median. In the more urban sections, the median often is concrete.
Many residents and business owners along U.S. 70 wanted a five-lane highway instead. They argued that a four-lane highway with a center turn lane would be just as safe or safer and much more convenient.
But the design approved included the median.
For Barbee, it means that when he’s traveling from Salisbury, he can’t make a left turn onto Hildebrand Road from U.S. 70. The grass median prevents it.
Barbee says he has to drive an extra .8 miles until he comes to a median crossover, where he must make a U-turn and retrace his route until he can make a right turn onto Hildebrand Road. In all, Barbee says he drives 1.6 miles out of his way.
“It’s aggravating as hell,” he says.
Barbee is not fudging on his numbers. I drove on U.S. 70 this past week to check the distance involved in his U-turn, and I actually measured 1.7 miles from where I passed Hildebrand Road the first time until I returned on the other side of the median.
“Do a good job, and lay it on the line,” Barbee told me.
Earlier this year, Barbee had met in person with Pat Ivey, Division 9 engineer for the DOT. Ivey is pretty much the top DOT dog in the division’s five-county area, which includes Rowan.
Ivey wrote Barbee personally on two occasions after their meeting and a telephone conversation. In each correspondence, Ivey informed Barbee that the DOT could not approve, nor could he recommend, a median crossover to serve his road.
In a May 19 letter, Ivey said to accommodate a median crossover safely in this location, a 350-foot left-turn lane and 200-foot left-turn taper would have to be constructed based on the highway design speed of 60 mph.
“Since the distance between the railroad bridge and Hildebrand Road is only 350 feet, the required left turn lane cannot be accommodated,” he wrote.
In a July 28 letter, Ivey said the additional .8 miles to a median crossover was considered reasonable. He said he reviewed the DOT’s median spacing policy and determined that an additional crossover “could physically be constructed between the two existing crossovers on U.S. 70.”
“However, the cost of this work is estimated to be $200,000,” he wrote.
Again, he said the existing median crossovers provide a “reasonable alternative route.” He could not recommend an additional crossover.
I spoke this past week with Ivey on the telephone, and his position hasn’t changed.
He said an additional consideration with providing a crossover at Hildebrand Road was the nearby railroad bridge east of the intersection.
To allow for the adequate amount of “storage” in a left-turn lane ó as required by federal design standards ó the DOT would face the even costlier proposition of widening the railroad bridge.
“No way can we meet the federal guidelines to get it in there,” Ivey said.
Ivey described Barbee as a nice gentleman for whom he understands that the median makes things less convenient. But many people with driveways and side streets off U.S. 70 face the same turnaround issue, he said.
I wish I had more encouraging news for Barbee. I fear he and other Hildebrand Road residents will get tired of driving their extra 1.6 or 1.7 miles and start cutting across the grass median. In fact, I noticed tracks across the median toward Hildebrand Road that suggest this already is happening.
Maybe I won’t be the last resort.
“I will take them to court ó if I don’t have to pay the court costs,” Barbee says.