WENDELL — When Wendell Falls Parkway opens in December of this year or January 2014, it will be part of the answer to a problem town leaders have long wrestled with.
The new road will create a new entrance into Wendell for motorists traveling from the west.
But Wendell commissioners are concerned that the new road is also likely to create bottlenecks in other places in town. Wendell Falls Parkway will funnel traffic into Wendell on Poole Road and Buffalo Street, which Ts into Wendell Boulevard across from Wendell Elementary School. Motorists who want to travel through Wendell toward Johnston County will likely cut across town on Third Street. Projections show that street could see traffic volumes double or even triple in the next seven years.
At a town board meeting last week, Commissioner Sam Laughery said he wants the town to start preparing plans now for how to deal with those new problems if they should arise.
All the streets and roads that are seen as being impacted by the new roadway are maintained by the state of North Carolina.
That means the town must convince the N.C. Department of Transportation to make changes to those roadways.
But exactly what changes would help are anyone’s guess.
Laughery admits he’s not sure what the answer is.
“I’m not a highway engineer. There’s no way I’m even going to guess what the solution should be,” Laughery said. Still, he thinks the town can be proactive and begin laying plans to solve the problems when they crop up.
“I think it’s smart to have some options and look at what the problems might be,” Laughery said.
In a report to town commissioners, Town Planner David Bergmark outlined a host of possible solutions, including some that could be done at little or no cost to the town and others that could require hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Town Manager Teresa Piner said the intersection of Buffalo Street and Wendell Boulevard is already getting attention from regional transportation planners. That intersection has been identified by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, or CAMPO, as one of a number of traffic “hotspots” in northeastern Wake County that deserve attention.
That designation could become important if the town opts to apply for funding from a pot of federal money designed to move road improvement projects along more quickly. Those funds, called LAPP funds, require the requesting agency – in this case, the town – to put some of its own money into the pot.
The more of its own money the town is willing to spend, the more likely the town would be able to leverage those funds with LAPP money.
Other solutions – redirecting traffic and limiting access to Wendell Boulevard, installing stop lights or widening Buffalo Street – could also be considered, Piner said.
DOT says wait and see
DOT officials say they’ll wait until the road opens to measure the need for any changes that may be needed.
“We make projections all the time, but they aren’t always right. We wouldn’t want to make changes and then find out that they weren’t needed,” DOT spokesman Steve Abbott said.
He said town commissioners are free to touch base with DOT before a problem arises, but he said studies will still be needed to figure out the best possible solution.
“We basically say, ‘Wait until the road opens and let’s see what the problems are.’ It’s a case of wait until the cars show up,” Abbott said.
If town leaders do find that bottlenecks and congestion occur, they can make requests to DOT to take steps to solve the problems.
Once a request is made, DOT will conduct a study of the area to determine the extent of the problem and develop a plan to fix the problem. Then, Abbott said, it will be a matter of finding the money to fix it.
“If there’s a problem in Knightdale that we see as being a bigger problem than one in Wendell, then we would have to address that first. It’s always about the money,” Abbott said.
Wendell could resolve it’s own problems to some extent, Abbott said, if it wants to pay for improvements to the roadways.
“That would certainly help speed up the process, certainly,” Abbott said.