Sunday, June 23, 2024

Pender discusses traffic ramifications as officials inch toward new school construction

The Pender County planning board recommended rezoning approximately 165 acres near NC Hwy 210 in northwest Hampstead.

PENDER — A fast-growing region of Pender County is one step closer to gaining a new school. As such, officials are considering several methods of addressing residents’ concerns about concomitant growth in traffic, including a potential North Carolina Department of Transportation-led effort to expand a nearby highway.

“Our hope is that, as this moves forward, the county will work with the state to make sure that we don’t get screwed,” resident Durwood Potter said to the board during a public hearing last week. “That we don’t get in a situation where we can’t get in and out of the one road that leads to our homes.”

Last Monday, the Pender County planning board voted unanimously to recommend approval of rezoning two tracts of land in northwest Hampstead totaling approximately 165 acres. The rezoning would allow for building a proposed K-8 school by shifting the site from the residential performance district to the office and institutional district.

The site is located approximately half a mile west of the intersection of NC Hwy 210 and Peanut Road. Long range planner Adam Moran explained the rezoning request consists of one approximately half-acre parcel on the curb of Hwy 210 and a connected large parcel containing the remaining acreage.

The recommendation follows Pender County commissioners’ approval of a $6 million purchase of a 145-acre parcel in August to construct the site.

Planning director Daniel Adams told Port City Daily that further steps need to be completed before school construction begins. If the board of commissioners approves the rezoning, the board of education and contractor will apply with a site-specific development plan. Adams said the engineering firm partnering with the school team, Bordeaux-Mosley, will likely be the applicant.

A traffic-impact analysis carried out by the NCDOT will then inform any roadway improvements needed as a result of the school’s impact.

While the development is anticipated to alleviate overcrowding in the burgeoning county’s schools, residents who live nearby the site are anxious about the increase in traffic.

“If the school goes in without improvements on 210, we’re in trouble,” resident Potter said at the meeting.

Potter called the 2021 statistics for annual daily traffic used by the planning board  “severely outdated.” The stats estimate the section of NC Hwy 210 near the school is at about 50% volume of capacity; the roadway between Peanut and Brickyard roads is at 10,000 trips per day with a capacity of 20,943 trips per day. 

Citizens citedthe overcrowded intersection of N.C. Hwy 210 and U.S. 17 as a particular concern. Resident Randy Hudson said congestion has become so extreme it sometimes takes him 4 to 6 minutes to pull out of his driveway.

“Anytime there’s any issue on 17, that stops at the intersection at 17 and 210, it backs up all the way to my house, past that curb,” Hudson said. “That’s a deadly curb. People come through there 65, 70 miles [per hour] sometimes, it’s ridiculous. You’re going to have to have a couple lanes just to turn into the school.”

Hampstead resident Kevin Harker, who recently bought 5 acres near the proposed site, is worried the county will have to use his property to expand the highway.

“My big thing that I hadn’t heard yet, that’s probably the worst curb in Pender County,” Harker said. “Are they going to five-lane that? I hear 210 is supposed to be five lanes. And where’s that land going to come from? Are they going to have to take half of my land to do that?”

But the NCDOT hasn’t revealed any expansion plans yet, though it’s conducting a feasibility study on the section of NC Hwy 210 from 17 to I-40 on improving roadway safety. NCDOT communications officer Lauren Haviland told Port City Daily the study is considering what improvements and widening, if needed, will be considered for future funding. She did not answer when it will be complete.

Haviland also said the unfunded Hampstead median project includes widening N.C. Hwy 210 from U.S. 17 to the Peanut Road connector.

After the public comment period, Adams reiterated a traffic-impact analysis would update old statistics and be required before acceptance of the project. Like NCDOT’s feasibility study, a new TIA also will inform plans of any necessary improvements, including expansion of NC Hwy 210. 

“As the gentleman stated, these numbers are probably outdated and we certainly recognize that, but this is the best data we have so it’s what we present,” Adams said.

The planning board then discussed “queueing,” a strategy of improving safety and efficiency by implementing an additional lane to facilitate the drop-off and pick-up of students at the school.

“That’s actually always factored in,” board member Margaret Mosca said. “I’ve done some school buildings. The queue lane, that’s always part of the plans.”

In addition to potentially widening N.C. Hwy 210 and creating a queue, planning board member Damien Buchanan said. He noted a roadway extension connecting to the Hampstead Bypass will impact the traffic situation.

Buchanan also mentioned there was “something on the books” to make U.S. 17 a “smart street” — a street that uses sensors and data to improve safety. Adams and Haviland told Port City Daily they did not have more information about the smart street proposal. 

Buchanan said Pender County officials would be limited in their influence over decision-making on road expansion because N.C. Hwy 210 is under state jurisdiction.

“I don’t think staff is making rash decisions and just throwing something there,” Buchanan said Monday. “They’re really thinking this through — how to decrease the impact of traffic.”

The Pender County Board of Commissioners will vote on the rezoning request at its Nov. 20 meeting.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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