Saturday, April 13, 2024

Pender traffic is a top concern with school site rezoning, Malpass intersection

The Pender County Board of Commissioners approved a rezoning to construct a new school at the Nov. 20 meeting. (Courtesy of Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — At a board of commissioners meeting last Monday, traffic concerns related to a new proposed school near US Hwy 210, as well as Malpass Elementary School, were expressed by officials and residents.

At the Nov. 20 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning of approximately 165 acres about half a mile west of the intersection of NC Hwy 210 and Peanut Road to facilitate the construction of a new school. The rezoning was recommended at the Oct. 6 planning board meeting, where traffic concerns dominated the conversation.

Three residents lamented traffic generated by the school at the Oct. 6 planning board meeting; resident Rany Hudson described the nearby intersection of NC Hwy 210 and US 17 as “deadly.” NCDOT communications officer Lauren Haviland told PCD the intersection is scheduled for improvements including near-side signal heads in all directions by spring 2024. 

Berry Patch resident Durwald Potter called the 2021 statistics for annual daily traffic used by the planning board “severely outdated” last month. He reiterated his concerns last week, adding he supports the school development but remains worried necessary road improvements will not be made.

“Our concern is that when the school does go, in between the school buses and the parents dropping off children, we’re going to be locked in for a while,” he said. “And it’s not just Berry Patch road, if you look on the map there are a number of roads, Holiday Drive and others that go back and into communities — their only way out is onto 210.”

Planning director Daniel Adams said a traffic-impact analysis carried out by the NCDOT would inform any roadway improvements needed as a result of the school’s impact before construction begins. Potential improvements include widening NC Hwy 210.

Also at the Nov. 20 meeting, Adams provided an update on unresolved safety concerns related to another roadway in close proximity to a school — the intersection of Malpass Corner Road and US 421. It’s located near Malpass Corner Elementary School and according to NCDOT’s most recent statistics, the intersection sees 5,600 trips daily.

“Just Saturday I was there at the intersection,” Burgaw resident Debbie Walker told commissioners. “The vehicles are not stopping, even with the red light.”

North Carolina Department of Transportation public relations officer Andrew Barksdale told Port City Daily there were 38 crashes at the intersection from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2022. He said none of the injuries during this period were fatal, although a crash at the intersection caused a death in 2017.

Nine included Type A injuries, the most serious, in addition to 51 less-serious injuries. Of the 38 crashes, 37 were front-impact, which the NCDOT said was more serious and dangerous than other forms of impact. 

Recently, 21-year old Sebastian Wedesky died in a crash at the intersection on Nov. 1, and 36-year old Burgaw resident Ricky Reynolds Graham was killed in a hit-and-run on Sep. 12 while walking the passway. The NC State Highway Patrol told PCD the driver from the hit-and-run has still not been identified.

Concern regarding children at the intersection dates back longer; a 2016 crash ejected two children from a vehicle and required four children to go to the hospital.

“And the school is there and the children are there,” Walker said. “I’m appalled that nothing has been done about it.”

The Burgaw resident urged immediate action. 

“Only by the grace of God more accidents don’t happen there,” she said. “I’m almost afraid to even go to the Malpass Corner, it’s that bad.”

Chairwoman Jackie Newton said the board shares her concerns. Newton and Commissioner Jerry Groves corroborated Walker’s account of drivers frequently passing the intersection during red lights. 

“Maybe we could work with the sheriff to get us a camera out there,” Newton said. “And get the tag number for everyone running the stoplight at the school.”

Adams told the board NCDOT is conducting an updated study on the intersection, to be available by summer 2024.

Barksdale noted NCDOT has taken measures to address the issue in recent years; in 2017 the state agency installed “stop ahead” warning signs for the eastbound approach on Malpass Corner, added painted stop bars on the pavement, and refreshed lane markings. In Nov. 2022, NCDOT added a red flasher on the stop signs of either approach to Malpass Corner.

Newton asked if NCDOT had data on whether the traffic light has reduced the number or severity of accidents; Adams said the county is currently gathering the information.

Barksdale also noted the division traffic engineer Stoney Mathis is considering developing a roundabout for the intersection. A 2020 NCDOT study of 13 intersections found roundabouts reduced crashes by 41% and lowered fatalities and injuries by 70%; the findings mirrored a 2011 study of 30 North Carolina roundabouts. 

Mathis considers the flashers on top of stop signs as a potential short-term solution, and is working with the county to study the feasibility of implementing the roundabout as a long-term fix to the problem. A potential roundabout does not yet have funding; Barksdale said it would have to compete for resources with other NCDOT highway safety projects.

Haviland told PCD NCDOT’s feasibility unit is currently awaiting estimates for one of those highway safety projects; a feasibility study for the section of NC 210 from 17 to I-40, which will influence potential roadway improvements and safety considerations near the new proposed school.


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

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