ZEBULON — Town leaders on Tuesday were asked to wrap their minds around something they’d never considered for Zebulon’s most prominent crossroads.
The notion was a traffic circle, 115-to-120 feet in diameter, for the junction of N.C. 96 and N.C. 97 – the heart-of-town intersection of Arendell and Gannon Avenues. The idea stems from feedback from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s ongoing Northeast Area Study, which shed light on traffic issues created by large trucks attempting to turn in any direction at the intersection.
“It’s a very confined turning station for a tractor trailer turning left from (N.C.) 97 going north on (N.C.) 96 toward (U.S. 64/264) in particular,” said transportation consultant Mike Rutkowski, who gave a presentation to the town board. “There’s just not enough turning radius.”
It is common for trucks to have to cross into oncoming lanes of traffic to execute a turn at the location, at times forcing vehicles in the oncoming lanes to back up to avoid a collision.
Rutkowski said a roundabout could solve that issue by allowing enough room for the trucks to pass through. He made clear, however, his proposal was strictly something for the town board to keep in mind as it lays out future transportation plans.
“Not only does it address the dangerous truck turning movement, but also addresses the need that we’ve heard for slowing down traffic as it approaches downtown at the gateway of the community,” Rutkowski continued. “But ultimately it will be the town’s decision on if and how they want to address the issue.
“These are just preliminary questions. If they find they want to pursue it, we still have to find the funding.”
Commissioner Curtis Strickland questioned whether a traffic circle would be effective in such a high-traffic area. Rutkowski said a roundabout is forever moving.
“It’s not like a stoplight,” Rutkowski said. “You may not be able to go through it at 30 mph, but you’re going to be able to keep moving.”
Mayor Bob Matheny said a roundabout could prove useful for the intersection and that the proposal deserves serious consideration.
“You have to think (outward),” Matheny said. “You can’t wait until the problem pounces on you. You have to stay ahead of the curve, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Rutkowski said eliminating left turn lanes on one of the two avenues is one alternative to a traffic circle. He said that would force a reroute that would likely inconvenience truck drivers, but it would resolve some of the issues at the intersection.