Commissioners opt not to OK comprehensive traffic plan

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By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—Brunswick County Commissioners will wait to receive endorsements from municipalities before giving the green light to the county’s comprehensive traffic plan.

At their regular meeting Monday night, commissioners put off a vote to endorse the plan, saying they first wanted municipalities to have public hearings before voting on endorsing the plan.

Work on the 30-year-plan to address the county’s transportation needs began in February 2006. Since then, a steering committee has worked to include the county’s transportation needs, as well as transportation needs submitted from municipalities and local stakeholders.

Public input sessions were in October 2007 and July 2008. Suggestions from these input sessions were included in the plan, N.C. Department of Transportation’s Earlene Thomas told commissioners.

Several people raised concerns about the plan during a public hearing, and commissioners also weighed in the on the plan.

Thomas highlighted four major changes proposed in the county’s comprehensive traffic plan. The first, she said, was to change the location of the proposed I-74 corridor north of its current location.

The proposed I-74/I-140 connector was also proposed to move to a new facility north of U.S. 17.

The plan would also upgrade U.S. 17 to expressway status, which garnered the most opposition from residents and commissioners.

In Boiling Spring Lakes, an N.C. 87 by-pass has been proposed to divert future port traffic through the center of town. The portion of N.C. 87 that passes through the town would be downgraded to boulevard status, Thomas said.

But perhaps the county’s biggest future transportation need—to accommodate the International Terminal in Southport—was acknowledged in the plan, but not specified on the map, also drawing opposition.

“The Ports Authority is in the planning process and hasn’t decided where its needs are,” Thomas told commissioners.

St. James Mayor Shelley Lesher said she is concerned about the port’s primary transportation facilities, and also about secondary roads and how that will affect local traffic. A secondary roads plan is “every bit as important,” she said.

Joe Kronski, transportation committee chair for the Alliance of Brunswick County Property Owners Association, raised several concerns with the comprehensive traffic plan. Kronski asked how the proposed changes to U.S. 17 would affect emergency responders, school busses and hurricane evacuation routes.

Kronski also expressed his concerns with the proposed unsignalized superstreet designs, or Michigan Left Turns, proposed for U.S. 17.

“U.S. 17 should remain a boulevard. A parallel road should be pursued vigorously,” he argued.

Commissioner Marty Cooke also raised concerns about the unsignalized superstreet designs, specifically the one underway at the notoriously dangerous intersection of Ocean Isle Beach Road and U.S. 17.

“I don’t like it. We need to have a traffic light there. I’m concerned about the safety of unsignalized Michigan left turns,” Cooke said.

All municipalities whose endorsements are needed for the plans have the plans, but have not all voted to OK the plan yet, Thomas said.

Municipalities waiting to endorse the comprehensive traffic plan include Bald Head Island, Boiling Spring Lakes, Shallotte and Varnamtown. Most towns are schedule to vote on the plan at their November meetings, she said.

After the public hearing, commissioners discussed the plan, but no one was ready to endorse the plan without all municipalities onboard first.

“I think the plan with the changes we’ve asked for is about as good as we’re going to do,” commissioner May Moore said.

The comprehensive transportation plan will go before the commissioners after all municipalities endorse the plan.