Sunday, July 14, 2024

With over 5,000 housing units in the pipeline, Hampstead area faces serious traffic crunch

Rush hour traffic in Hampstead on Wednesday evening. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)
Rush hour traffic in Hampstead on Wednesday evening. (Port City Daily photo / Mark Darrough)

HAMPSTEAD — Just north of the Pender County line, the 13-mile stretch of U.S. 17 is facing increasing traffic congestion as housing developments continue to expand along the coast.

Meanwhile, construction of the Hampstead Bypass and Hampstead Median projects — which are designed to alleviate the traffic pressures — will not begin until at least 2020 as future subdivisions are predicted to add over 5,000 units along U.S. 17 in the Hampstead area.

Current traffic conditions

Based on NCDOT estimates, the most heavily traveled point along this stretch, an area just north of Forest Sound Road, has seen its average daily traffic numbers jump from 25,000 vehicles in 2003 to 48,000 vehicles in 2017 — nearly double the traffic flow in a 14-year period.

“Hampstead, in general, is one of our top priorities,” Chad Chimes said.

Chimes, a deputy engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Division 3, helps oversee Pender County and said the area is one of the most dangerous in the region.

“Last time we ran that crash history, it was the highest crash rate for a 6-mile area in southeastern North Carolina … There are collisions out there every week,” Chimes said.

RELATED: Hampstead Bypass now fully funded, construction to begin soon

Chimes predicts that due to the area’s roughly 3% annual growth rate — anything over 3% is considered significant, he said — average daily traffic will increase by 1,500 vehicles every year in that particular 6-mile stretch of U.S. 17.

“Twenty years from now, that really shoots up. It is still anticipated, twenty years from now, that U.S. 17 goes back up to nearly 50,000 cars a day,” Chimes said.

The Hampstead bypass will be connected with I-140 East and the Military Cutoff Road extension, and run north, inland but parallel to U.S. 17, and reconnect with U.S. 17 near Surf City; the bypass is expected to relieve considerable traffic from the Hampstead area. But according to Chimes, traffic on U.S. 17 will continue to increase, even after the bypass is completed.

“That’s why we’re staying focused on these projects,” Chimes said.

Hampstead housing boom

A review of pending and approved projects on Pender County’s online database revealed that 11 proposed subdivisions — like Blake Farm and Hawks Bill Cove, estimated to house 2,998 and 1,023 units respectively — will add a total of 5,485 units to the area. Each of the plots for these proposed developments lies within two miles of the highway — the main route to schools, shopping, and businesses.

One project, however, seems to be a little slower getting off the ground: Pender County Planning Director Kyle Breuer said on Wednesday that the controversial Blake Farm project, which faced scrutiny last fall for pushing forward approval of a state-funded aquarium on private land, has since been ignored.

“We haven’t seen any action on any of the projects at Blake Farm,” Breuer said, including the aquarium, a 3,000-unit subdivision, 5 restaurants, 3 retail and office buildings, and a 10-building apartment complex.

Thousands of housing units have been proposed or approved along U.S. 17 in Hampstead. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Pender County)
Thousands of housing units have been proposed or approved along U.S. 17 in Hampstead. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Pender County)

Bypass, median projects coming 2020

Chimes said the NCDOT expects the $225 million bypass, which acquired full funding over the summer, will cut the traffic in half “right off the bat” — one of the key reasons his division has accelerated the project five years ahead of its original 2025 schedule. To keep traffic flowing during its construction, the median project will begin shortly after the bypass is completed.

Construction of the bypass will start about a month after bids have been submitted, a phase the NCDOT is aiming to complete by July 2020. This will come after a roughly 18-month right-of-way process in which the state negotiates with property owners impacted by the projects and acquires their land.

Chimes said the “median and super street” project will be crucial to alleviate traffic pressures on U.S. 17 itself, especially on the stretch north of the bypass’ entrance onto the highway. According to an earlier NCDOT traffic analysis that compares 2040 traffic estimates with and without the bypass (below), an area just south of the bypass near Leeward Lane will see 22,500 vehicles daily, compared to 61,400 vehicles daily if the bypass did not exist at that time.

A few blocks north, however, the 2040 estimate of 61,400 daily vehicles remains the same.

Until these projects begin, Chimes said the NCDOT is focused on analyzing the current traffic signal system and enhancing intersections.

“I was out there today listening to [citizens’] concerns about Hampstead traffic,” Chimes said. “It seems really bad. We have a firm looking at the signal timing in Hampstead, to see if we can take some of the pressure off today.”

NDOT Division 3 has also received approval for an intersection improvement project at U.S. 17 and 210 near the fast-growing town of Surf City, according to Chimes. They will also begin building roundabouts at N.C. 210 and Watt’s Landing and one at N.C. 50 and Belt Road.

“There are very low accident rates on NCDOT roundabouts,” Chimes said, citing the slower speed a car must obtain to pass through a roundabout, as well as the prevention of dangerous collisions that occur in traditional intersections.

He also said they will serve to keep traffic in constant motion.

NCDOT comparative study of traffic in 2040 with and without the bypass:

Hampstead Intersections Que… by on Scribd

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