Northeast Chatham residents getting DOT’s attention on 15-501/Lystra Road intersection

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/7/19

CHAPEL HILL — The intersection of Lystra Road and U.S. Highway 15-501 could be described as the turning point from Pittsboro to Chapel Hill.

To the south, it’s Briar Chapel, Fearrington …

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Northeast Chatham residents getting DOT’s attention on 15-501/Lystra Road intersection

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CHAPEL HILL — The intersection of Lystra Road and U.S. Highway 15-501 could be described as the turning point from Pittsboro to Chapel Hill.

To the south, it’s Briar Chapel, Fearrington Village and downtown Pittsboro. To the north, it’s Chapel Hill and Orange County.

Whatever you call it, it’s been a trouble spot traffic-wise, and residents of the area have been making their voices heard by the N.C. Dept. of Transportation. Now, the NCDOT is currently in the process of evaluating the intersection.

There were accidents at the intersection on consecutive days last month, and all three incidents happened pretty much the same way. One driver was headed north and had a green light. The other was headed south, but making a left turn with a blinking yellow light. For various reasons, the southbound driver started making the turn, but was struck by the car coming north. Two of the six people involved in the accidents were taken to a hospital for medical attention.

For nearby residents, it’s become a concern.

“If a visitor, for example, who is unfamiliar with the speed that people are going north thinks it’s safe to turn left on the flashing yellow,” said Stan Campbell, a Governors Club resident, “they usually are wrong and either barely make the turn without getting hit, cause people going north to put on the brakes, or get hit.”

Campbell reached out to the News + Record to share the situation. He said residents of the numerous neighborhoods in the area — Polks Landing, Fearrington Village, Briar Chapel, Governors Club, Westfall and Legend Oaks among them — have been talking on the online forum Next Door, which functions as a social network of sorts for neighborhoods, about the danger of the intersection.

“Most of the residents (of Governors Club) use Lystra Road to get to 15-501, Harris-Teeter, CVS, Lowes Foods, The Veranda, etc.,” Campbell said, referring to nearby businesses. “So we often see the challenges of that stoplight each week and hold our breath when we see someone trying to make that left turn from 15-501 South to Lystra Road.”

Fearrington Village resident David Miller saw it firsthand. On Oct. 27, 2018, he was sitting at the intersection, waiting for his left-turn light onto 15-501 southbound to turn green, when two cars collided. Once again, someone was trying to turn left onto Lystra Road from 15-501 southbound, and someone driving north on 15-501 hit them. One of the cars ricocheted and hit his vehicle. Two people were hospitalized.

“That light either needs to be green or red, not blinking caution, in my opinion,” Miller said. “Somebody’s going to be killed there. The North Carolina Department of Transportation ought to know they’ve been warned by a lot of people and have not done anything.”

Aaron Moody, a public relations officer with NCDOT, said the department has gotten public comments from people about intersections along the stretch. The intersections of 15-501 at Briar Chapel and Fearrington Village also have similar blinking yellow left-turn lights, which DOT is evaluating as well.

“We did get a fair amount of citizen contacts and concerns regarding intersections in that corridor and requests to take out the flashing yellow left turn,” Moody said. “We got comments along the whole corridor from Fearrington Village to the Orange County line. It’s going to take them a while to review that. Our safety and mobility unit will be putting together an assessment.”

There was no timeline set for a decision on the evaluation, but Moody said the department will consider the number of cars, speeds driven and accident records.

The department did conduct a speed reduction study at the intersection in September 2017 and, according to a message sent to area residents by Division Traffic Engineer David Willett, “found no basis upon which to further reduce the current speed limit.” However, the review did “indicate poor motorist compliance with the posted 55 miles per hour speed limit from the 23,000 average daily motorists.”

Renee Lori, who also lives in the area, said the intersection asks a lot of people, especially those turning left on a blinking yellow.

“You have to see who’s on your left, your right, who’s doing a U-turn, the speed of the incoming car — that’s how those really horrible crashes happen, I think,” she said. “I’ve been terrorized in the fact that I feel like there are always people behind me. People are clearly going way faster. There’s a huge amount of no signaling. And then you mix that in with people who think that it’s fine to text or dictate on their phone.”

With the increase in nearby residents with the construction of Briar Chapel, and the increasingly aging population in the area, Moody said DOT is “very open and willing” to review the intersection.

“At the end of the day, we want them to be as safe as y’all do, obviously,” he said. “Ongoing reviews are one of the ways we do that.”

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

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