Traffic circle splits community

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2011

By Nathan Hardin
On Saturday morning, Mendee Williams pulled beside Sherrills Ford Road, got out and began picking up trash.
After about an hour, she crossed the highway, near the intersection at Barringer Road, and trimmed the grass around a homemade wooden memorial erected after the 2009 death of her son, Greg Terry.
Williams wants to the intersection made safer and trimming her son’s marker is a reminder that she doesn’t want to see more memorials there.
“It leaves you thinking, ‘What can I do to help other people,’ ” Williams said.
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Williams has been petitioning the North Carolina Department of Transportation since September 2009 to make changes at the intersection to improve safety.
After an accident Monday at the same intersection, which caused no serious injuries but involved three cars, she believes it is as dangerous as ever and is intent on continuing her efforts to make it safer.
She faces opposition, though, from business and property owners around the intersection who say they also want to see fewer wrecks at the crossroads, but they don’t like the state’s proposal for making that happen.
Williams began placing petition boards in convenience stores across the county in 2009 and got more than 5,000 signatures calling for a traffic signal at the intersection, she said. But the Department of Transportation said the intersection doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant a stop light, though there are three schools within a 5-mile radius.
Then Williams thought she finally won a battle in April, when the Transportation Department responded and said that a traffic circle had been approved and funding had been accrued for the project, Williams said.
“They said in the long run it would be more cost efficient,” Williams said. “I was fine with anything they were going to do.”
But after a two-year struggle, the crossroads conflict is far from over.
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Graham’s Grill, where Williams once posted one of her petitions, has started a petition opposing the potential roundabout.
A preliminary layout the Department of Transportation left at Graham’s Grill, which sits at the intersection of Sherrills Ford and Barringer roads, shows the traffic circle will cut into the business’ parking lot, eliminate two of its three current entrances and drastically cut into the remaining entrance.
“That’s pretty much going to shut us down,” owner Mike Pittman said.
Pat Ivey, division engineer for the Department of Transportation, said the intersection is being studied and no recommendations have been made. Ivey did say a one-lane traffic circle is being considered at the intersection.
The state installed temporary caution lights in March that signal to oncoming traffic when someone is waiting at the intersection.
Pittman said he’s not against improving safety at the intersection, but he doesn’t think the answer is a traffic circle.
“Something needs to be done,” Pittman said. “It is a dangerous intersection. It just seems like a waste of taxpayer money to put these lights up temporarily.”
Pittman said he’s tried to get information from the Transportation Department, but he gets a different answer each time.
“We just can’t seem to get a straight answer from anybody,” he said.
Graham’s Grill co-owner Princess Bartlett, agrees with Pittman.
“There are other roads and bridges that need to be fixed,” Bartlett said. “Leave what’s up there now and reduce the speed or go with a traffic light.”
To Bartlett, the accidents at the intersection are the result of negligent driving.
“All this is, is careless driving,” she said. “That’s all it is.”
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Williams admits her son may have rolled through the stop sign or was possibly careless as he crossed in his Saturn from Briggs Road to Barringer Road about 9 p.m. on July 11, 2009. But she believes a traffic circle or stop light would help change casual attitudes about the intersection.
According to estimates from the Department of Transportation, more accidents have occurred at the intersection than at three of the last five stop lights installed in Rowan County.
The intersection has had 45 accidents since 2000, with one of them being the 2009 fatality. None of the other five intersections that recently received stop lights had fatal wrecks.
Garland Briggs, a close neighbor, knows how dangerous the intersection is, but called the potential traffic circle “foolish.”
Briggs’ property, which is adjacent to the intersection, will take the largest hit if the Transportation Department approves the design given to Graham’s Grill.
“It’s unnecessary,” Briggs said. “My brother almost lost his wife out there, but I can’t say it was the intersection’s fault.”
Briggs also said he drove a truck for 33 years and thinks the circle would be difficult to navigate for drivers.
“I can’t see how it would help anything,” he said. “I think the answer is a traffic light.”
The DOT refutes the circle would impede tractor-trailers, and according to Pat Ivey, the circle is “designed to accommodate all types of vehicles.”
“It’s an option and that’s what we’re studying right now, to make sure it’s the best option,” Ivey said.
Ivey said the DOT hopes to hold a community workshop in October or November to hear local residents concerns about the potential circle.
Ivey said workshops usually last three hours.
“It will be advertised and the same property owners that were notified about the surveys will be notified about the workshop,” Ivey said.
• • •
Williams said she believes everything happens for a reason, and she thinks that reason may be to increase the intersection’s safety.
Terry was struck by a Schwann’s food delivery truck as the driver traveled east on Sherrills Ford Road. Terry’s passenger in the Saturn, Jessie Teveler, who was 17 at the time, survived but with some injuries. The driver of the truck also received minor injuries.
Williams said she’s not trying to hurt the businesses or land owners around the intersection, but said she’s not going to place the value of businesses over the value of lives.
“It could be a bus load of kids next time,” she said.
Williams said she thinks some of her support may have waned over the past two years.
“Maybe that initial shock has kind of warn off,” she said. “To me, it’s still like it’s yesterday.”
Williams said she still remembers going to the hospital at 4 a.m. to see her son after the crash.
Greg Terry wore his class ring for about two months. He was wearing it the night he died.
Williams has since had the ring resized and wears it every day.
“It’s not about my son, it’s about saving the lives of others.”