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DOT workshop provides forum for traffic circle opinion

By Nathan Hardin
nhardin@salisburypost.com
More than 70 people walked through the door at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church on Tuesday to view the proposed traffic circle at the intersection of Sherrills Ford and Briggs roads.
The Department of Transportation provided videos, maps and simulations for the proposed circle, which has drawn support and scorn from community members on both sides of the issue.
The intersection’s safety drew attention after Mendee Williams petitioned the DOT months after the death of her son, Greg Terry, in 2009.
Williams said at Tuesday’s traffic circle workshop that she never asked for the circle, but that if it saves lives, she’ll take it.
“This isn’t what I petitioned for,” Williams said. “I wanted a stop light, but if we can’t get it, then we can’t get it.”
Williams’ son died at the intersection when his Saturn was struck by an eastbound truck on Sherrills Ford Road on a Friday night in 2009.
Shortly after, Williams began collecting signatures for her petition for change at the intersection.
But the community’s mood about the issue changed last year when the DOT determined that the intersection’s traffic volume didn’t warrant a stop light, citing federal law.
Instead, Pat Ivey, DOT division engineer, said the DOT analyzed the frequency of crashes at the intersection, as well as the severity of the crashes, and the DOT determined that a traffic circle was appropriate, approving funding for the project.
Williams called the circle “a step in the right direction.”
“I don’t want it to be an inconvenience to anybody, but if it saves one life, it’s worth it,” Williams said.
• • •
Visibility, speed, tractor trailers, emergency vehicles and school buses were among some of the concerns brought up by Rowan County residents at the workshop.
The traffic circle would be Rowan’s first.
Several residents, like Jane Melton, said the temporary caution light that was put up in March needs more time to be evaluated.
“The caution light has not been up long,” Melton told DOT staff members on Tuesday. “Give it the opportunity to work.”
Members of the DOT maintain that the blinking lights were designed for temporary use while a long-term solution was determined.
“Over time, people are going to become oblivious to it,” a DOT employee said to residents.
According to statistics provided to residents Tuesday night, traffic circles reduce crashes by 70 percent.
Staffers told residents that over the last five years, 21 crashes, including Terry’s fatal wreck, have occurred at the intersection. Those statistics were a large part in the decision to propose the traffic circle, DOT members said.
Melton said she thinks the state is wasting money on the proposed traffic circle when she said roads and other intersections around the state are in disrepair.
“For some unknown reason, this one area with 20 accidents hit high on the state’s list,” Melton said. “I think the decision has already been made.”
T.J. Brown, a Barringer Road resident, said he came in with safety concerns, but that many of the issues were addressed.
“It sounds like they’ve got some good plans for the safety concerns,” Brown said.
Brown said lighting and increased signage around the traffic circle, will help visibility issues to drivers approaching the circle.
“It’s going to take some getting used to, but it’ll be doable.”
The comment period for the proposed circle ends Nov. 22. The Transportation Department asks that anyone wishing to provide commentary on the project to e-mail the DOT office. Contact information can be found at www.ncdot.org.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246 or nhardin@salisburypost.com.
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