US 158 'Superstreet' design debated: Residents not happy with U-turns
By William F. West
Monday, June 11, 2018
BARCO — State transportation officials unveiled last week what they’re calling a “superstreet” design for the four-laning of U.S. Highway 158 between Belcross in Camden County and Barco in Currituck County.
The design, by HDR Engineering, calls for a four-lane highway — two lanes eastbound and two lanes westbound, separated by a median. However, unlike most “uncontrolled access” four-laned roads, the project doesn’t call for median crossovers at intersections.
Under the superstreet design, traffic on side roads won’t be allowed to pass straight through or turn left at an intersection with U.S. 158. Instead, motorists will have to turn right and travel a short distance to a designated area for U-turns if they want to either cross the intersection or head in the opposite direction.
Steve Brown, HDR Engineering’s general project manager for the $120 million Belcross-to-Barco project, said the point of the superstreet design is to keep traffic on U.S. 158 continually flowing.
He said the biggest problem with the highway right now are crossings and left turns by motorists from side roads and side streets at a couple of intersections. He said the intersection of U.S. 158 and Indiantown Road in Camden becomes particularly congested when motorists on U.S. 158 attempt to make left turns.
"It's a lot easier and more efficient to take a right (from a side road or a side street) if U.S. 158 has heavy traffic than it is to wait and take a left," he said.
DOT is keenly interested in keeping traffic flowing on U.S. 158 because it serves as an alternate hurricane evacuation route from the Outer Banks.
Jerry Jennings, DOT engineer for Division 1, has said right-of-way acquisition for the Belcross-to-Barco project is set to begin in 2023, with construction to start a couple of years later.
While Brown was pointing out the superstreet design’s emphasis on safety, local residents who showed up for a public meeting on the project last week were more concerned about how the design will change their transportation habits. Some of the 50 people who attended the event at the Currituck Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service said the changes would be drastic.
Brock Smithson, a 26-year-old farmer, made clear he dislikes the plan, calling it a “disaster.”
Smithson said the proposed superstreet plan for U.S. 158 would restrict how his family transports grain from fields in the Barco area to a storage facility in the Shawboro area. The Smithsons currently farm land south of where U.S. 158 intersects with Barco Road, all the way to the U.S. 158-Caratoke Highway intersection.
Currently, Smithson said his family’s farm trucks are able to turn left onto U.S. 158 west of Barco Road and travel on to the Shawboro grain facility. Under the superstreet plan, however, the trucks will have to turn right onto U.S. 158, travel to the Barco Road intersection, make a U-turn and then head west on U.S. 158.
Smithson also noted that, according to the project’s design map, his family’s farm equipment will also have to maneuver through a rebuilt intersection designed primarily for eastbound U.S. 158 motorists to make a left turn to go east on Barco Road.
"They (designers) keep saying it's going to be safer, but I can assure you right now we already have a hard enough time moving this farm equipment down the road," he said.
He suggested that instead of speeding up traffic through that area of U.S. 158, the superstreet design might slow it down.
“When you have to come out, go up and turn an 80,000-pound truck around and come back, you can't just take off and floorboard it and expect to get up to speed in any kind of timely manner," he said.
Compounding Smithson's concern is there's no plan for a U-turn in the U.S. 158 median between Barco Road and Caratoke Highway. As a result, when farm vehicles exit the part of the farm south of U.S. 158 and east of Barco Road, they would have to travel to Caratoke Highway, hook a left northbound on Caratoke Highway before turning left again on westbound Barco Road to get to westbound U.S. 158.
Smithson said the project design needs to include somewhere between Barco Road and Caratoke Highway for motorists to turn around.
HDR’s Brown said engineers looked for a spot for a U-turn between Barco Road and Caratoke Highway. However, they found the distance between the two routes too short to fit in another U-turn. He also cited the presence of a number of properties in that area.
Smithson wasn’t the only local resident unhappy with the superstreet design.
C.J. Hutson, a 69-year-old retired educator who lives on Indiantown Road, said the first thought that came to mind when he saw the road project’s design on the internet was, “This does not make sense."
Hutson’s concern with the design is its lack of a left turn for motorists approaching U.S. 158 on Indiantown Road from either the south or north. Motorists who want to get to northbound Indiantown Road or go east on U.S. 158 to Camden will instead have to make a right turn on U.S. 158 and travel to a designated U-turn area. Similarly, motorists who want to get to southbound Indiantown Road or travel west on U.S. 158 will first have to make a right turn and travel east on U.S. 158 to a U-turn area.
Hutson said he’s keenly interested in the Indiantown-U.S. 158 intersection because he owns property on both sides of U.S. 158. He also noted a number of commuters use Indiantown Road to travel to their jobs.
"I don't like this concept. If we're going to have this, I would rather have a real roundabout," he said.
Asked about concerns expressed by Smithson and Hutson, Brown said the superstreet design is NCDOT’s preferred alternative for upgrading the current two-lane U.S. 158. At the same time, no plans are set in stone and HDR continues to solicit input on the project, he said.
"So, we want to hear those concerns because we've looked at a lot of things but we can't look at everything," Brown said.
A copy of the proposed U.S. 158 project can be viewed online at: https: www.ncdot.gov/projects/publicmeetings.
Comments can be mailed to Jamille Robbins at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sent by mail to Robbins at NCDOT Public Involvement, Community Studies and Visualization Group Leader, 1598 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1598.
The deadline for DOT to receive public comments on the project is June 20.