Traffic is one of the hot topics when discussing the rampant growth Mebane is currently experiencing.
At the July Mebane City Council meeting, the town’s elected leaders spent considerable time discussing several of Mebane’s most congested areas, as well as some of the future plans to improve traffic flows throughout town. One of the primary areas of the discussion was the route along N.C. Highway 119 south of the I-40/I-85 freeway interchange.
Council members Everette Greene and Tim Bradley expressed specific concern about the area around Lowe’s Boulevard, which has become heavily congested in recent years. With Lowe’s, La Cocina and Hursey’s Restaurants on one side of the street, and Cracker Barrel, Smithfield’s, and multiple hotels on the other side of N.C. Highway 119, as well as the nearby Compass Pointe commercial development, this particular area is experiencing significant traffic pressure.
The pressure will intensify in the coming years after two hotels, which were recently approved by the City Council, are completed along Lowe’s Boulevard to the immediate west of Lowe’s.
“They (the North Carolina Department of Transportation) put that road beside the two restaurants there (La Cocina and Hursey's along N.C. Highway 119),” Greene said. “They shut that down for construction. And that, coming in and out of there going to eat, affected (traffic) tremendously.”
“It really messed up Lowe’s Boulevard,” added Bradley. “Coming out, if people are trying to make a left out of Lowe’s to go back towards town or the interstate - everybody coming out of those restaurants, even though they’re making right turns, it prevents you from making a left turn without getting smacked. I’m a frequent flyer at Lowe’s. So I know that coming up from Lowe’s Boulevard to 119 and making a left during lunch and dinner is almost impossible. You’re going to sit there four revolutions on the (stop) light.”
Bradley said that a service road behind N.C. Highway 119, which could service Compass Pointe and the Lowe’s Boulevard area, would be a valuable addition to the Mebane landscape.
“I think that service road would be monumental. If you want to go from Southern States to State Employees Credit Union, you’ve got to get out on 119. Even though it’s 90 feet. And you can’t turn left there,” Bradley said.
Assistant City Manager Chris Rollins provided the elected officials and the public more details regarding upcoming traffic work along Lowe’s Boulevard and other areas along N.C. Highway 119 to the immediate south of the freeway corridor. Rollins and Mebane City Planning Director Cy Stober explained that the intersection of Lowe’s Boulevard with N.C. Highway 119 will include a state-funded NCDOT widening project to accommodate increased traffic volume and flows.
“The 119 project, where it stops right there at Lowe’s Boulevard, I think a lot of the construction has been done,” Rollins said. “The signals have not been, I think, fully implemented. They still haven’t completed final paving there. There’s a new project that has been funded that will start there and go all the way to Trollingwood (Hawfields Road). The City is currently in preliminary design with the North Carolina DOT. There has been one public meeting on that particular project, which is funded and will start a couple years from now, in either 2021 or 2022.”
Rollins and Stober also spoke about future improvements near Millstead Drive, which services numerous businesses including McPherson Cleaners, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Jelly Donuts, Kingsdown, Blankenship Dental Care, Chris Sconzo Edward Jones Financial, and Ashley & Company Jewelers, among others.
“Millstead, that is scheduled for improvements, but has not yet started. The final design on that project has not been completed, although that project has been funded,” he said.
“The intersection at Millstead, at the original design of that transportation improvement project, it did not include a traffic signal,” Stober added. “Some other improvements are currently being negotiated between Mebane and the NCDOT to improve conditions at that particular intersection. The actual widening project is currently under discussion and negotiations with the DOT.”
Stober added that the improvements should be fully implemented for the Highway 119/Millstead Drive widening project by the end of 2020, or at least well underway.
Other future projects include a future connection that will provide another artery from Highway 119 over to Trollingwood-Hawfields Road, although that particular connection is likely years down the road.
“Where Lowe’s Boulevard ends now. If you looked at our long-range plan, you would see that road in the past - (the City Council) had talked about connecting back over to Trollingwood-Hawfields Road,” Rollins explained. “Where it was built, it dead-ends right at a pond, and right at the buffer required for that pond. There’s (also) a buffer on the south side (opposite the pond of the road). So it’s not real practical to extend the road right there over to Trollingwood.”
The City of Mebane is currently working with the Burlington-Graham Metropolitan Planning Organization and the North Carolina Department of Transportation to hire an engineering firm to conduct an overall study to look at how Mebane could extend Lowe’s Boulevard over to Trollingwood Road.
“It clearly continues to be of importance as far as our long-range transportation plan,” Rollins said of the Lowe’s Boulevard/Trollingwood-Hawfields connection. “I don’t have a definite, clear solution. At a staff level, we have talked about possibly a roundabout being there. We’ve talked about a curve going there. But we will have to, as the projects farther southeast and west of there develop, figure out a way to cut the road over to Trollingwood.”
“Our goal would be to tie it back over at the signal that’s currently at the mobile home park (across from Senator Ralph Scott Parkway),” the Assistant City Manager added. “But all of that will be evaluated as to whether it would go there, whether it goes just north of there. We’ve had discussions about also tying another road back over to Highway 119 South. But our clear intention is to figure out how to get through there. And we’re right at the moment, going through the process to hire an engineering firm, to tie down a way to make that happen.”
“I will note that this road out to Trollingwood is essential,” Mayor Pro Tem Ed Hooks said. “And I know the work that we do that we do with the TAC (Transportation Advisory Committee) and TCC (Technical Coordinating Committee) is vital to make this thing happen as all this area develops. It cannot all go out to 119. It has to have another artery. So this is vital.”
“I agree,” said Bradley. “I hope that study will include looking at a service road behind State Employees Credit Union, Southern States, Compass Drive, and maybe on down. If you had a service drive behind it, then you wouldn’t have so many exit points coming out onto Highway 119, which ends up blocking traffic. I would hope that service road would be studied.”
“The staff agrees with all those comments,” Rollins said.
Farther down Highway 119, the intersection with Old Hillsborough Road and Trollingwood Road at Hawfields Presbyterian Church continues to be a heavily-traveled area, particularly at peak morning and afternoon times.
“The Hawfields/119 intersection continues to be a problem. We need to make sure we do what we can to improve conditions there,” Council member Patti Philipps said.
Rollins informed the Council that the NCDOT is taking on the task of examining potential future solutions to congestion along Highway 119 south of the freeway corridor heading towards the intersection with N.C. Highway 54 in Swepsonville. That will free up time for City staff to research potential solutions for the 119/Trollingwood connection.
“Originally, were trying to do studies all the way out to Hawfields, and all the way out to 54,” Rollins said. “The NCDOT informed us recently that they are doing a separate study from Highway 54 to Hawfields. So they’re actually taking that on themselves, and are just starting the process to do that.”