DOT tells 15-501 neighbors: We’re considering intersection changes

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/10/20

PITTSBORO — Nearly 100 residents of Fearrington Village and other developments around U.S. Hwy. 15-501 packed into the auditorium of Galloway Ridge at Fearrington Monday night to hear from local …

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DOT tells 15-501 neighbors: We’re considering intersection changes

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PITTSBORO — Nearly 100 residents of Fearrington Village and other developments around U.S. Hwy. 15-501 packed into the auditorium of Galloway Ridge at Fearrington Monday night to hear from local law enforcement and N.C. Dept. of Transportation officials about changes coming to the corridor in Chatham County.

The corridor has been the location of several accidents in recent years, residents at the meeting stated, and concerns ranged from traffic lights to speed limit to visibility.

“We all have issues along 15-501,” said Carl Angel, the president of the Fearrington Village Home Owners’ board. “There are people from all up and down the area affected by the traffic. What we’re all interested in is traffic along 15-501, what we can do, how we can make it better.”

Brandon Jones, the Division 8 engineer with DOT, told the crowd that the section of road under consideration — a 10.5-mile stretch from the U.S. Hwy. 64 bypass to Smith Level Road, the border of Orange and Chatham counties — is the focus of a $45.64 million project slated to begin construction in 2027. And while exact engineering and the fates of specific intersections are not yet finalized, there’s a good chance the focus will be converting interchanges to “reduced conflict intersections.”

“What that allows us to do is synchronize the signals coming through the corridor and improve flow,” Jones said. “It also improves safety quite a bit because you’re removing all traditional intersections. That’s the idea for the 15-501 corridor in the future.”

An example of a reduced conflict intersection can be found at the Andrews Store Road and 15-501 intersection currently. Left turns off of 15-501 are guided by blinking yellow lights that can change to green, and no left turns are allowed off Andrews Store Road. Instead, drivers from Andrews Store Road must take a right to go southbound on 15-501, and if they want to go northbound, they must take a U-turn to get in those lanes. The U-turn is signalized just like the left turn off the highway.

“You won’t have to worry about having to cut across traffic to get out,” Jones said. “You’ll be required more than likely to do a right turn to get out and then do a U-turn, but you’ll do it under safe movements. You won’t have to wait to turn left because you’ll have to turn right and then do a U-turn.”

Of particular focus to a couple community members was the Lystra Road intersection with 15-501, which was the subject of a News + Record story in June 2019. Residents of Governors Club and other nearby developments told the News + Record they were concerned about multiple traffic accidents from the blinking yellow lights both north and southbound on 15-501.

One speaker said she was concerned about the blinking signals, that it was her “No. 1 priority right now” in terms of safety. Another said the numerous reported accidents “concerns [her] greatly.”

Jones said DOT is “taking a strong look” at that intersection and is considering a protected left turn, which would eliminate the blinking yellow and would only allow movement on steady green arrows.

“It probably is the top intersection along the corridor that we have safety (issues),” he said. “As an interim safety improvement, that’s something we may just have to do and live with until we have the ultimate project.”

The meeting also featured Zeb Stroup with the State Highway Patrol and Capt. Steve Maynor from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. Both law enforcement personnel said they wanted to be part of the solution, but enforcement is becoming difficult with fewer people applying to work at the agencies.

“We’re doing everything we can to assist with the concerns on traffic,” Maynor said. “But our time is being spent focusing on answering calls for service, and those calls for service are going up.”

Stroup added, “What we legitimately care about is safety. We want you to be as efficient and safe as possible. This is a big deal. You’re right to be concerned as you are about it. But it has to be a cooperative effort.”

Chatham County Commission Chairman Karen Howard was slated to be at the meeting, but Angel said she was unable to attend because of family illnesses.

“She’s going to stay very much involved with this and has promised to continue the conversation,” Angel said.

Jones stressed that DOT was always open to comments from the public and that the stretch of road under construction was “very important” to DOT. But, he added, big projects like fixing that corridor “take a long time to develop and then several years typically to construct.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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