SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Transportation anticipates an additional 52,000 vehicles to travel U.S. 17 in the Scotts Hill area in the coming years. With more than 2,000 new homes being developed, an already congested roadway could quickly become even more difficult to traverse.
To help ease future traffic issues and increase safety, NCDOT is proposing a $1.6-million project to construct reduced-conflict intersections at Sidbury and the southern portion of Scotts Hill Loop roads. Currently, that stretch of road experiences around 39,500 vehicles on average daily.
The preliminary plan would relocate the left-turn and U-turn movements in two areas to assist with traffic flow.
The Scotts Hill area is a region that borders the New Hanover and Pender county line and has been a magnet for recent development. Nineteen new housing complexes are being planned, according to NCDOT. Blake Farm, portions of which have broken ground, and Silo Ridge in Pender County are collectively introducing 452 units. Silo Ridge should begin home construction within the coming year Pender County planning director Travis Henley said. Also, the 66-bed Scotts Hill Community Hospital is slated to break ground this year.
A spokesperson for New Hanover County confirmed 976 units among five subdivisions and 256 apartments are also planned along the corridor.
The $429-million Hampstead Bypass, which broke ground earlier this year, should help alleviate traffic; however, in the short-term more needs to be done, NCDOT division 3 traffic engineer Jessi Leonard explained to Pender County commissioners Monday.
Leonard told the board in the last two years, NCDOT has received a number of traffic impact analyses to help estimate expected trip generation from proposed developments. TIAs also provide NCDOT the opportunity to require needed road improvements prior to developments being constructed.
Congestion issues along the roadway are worse in the peak morning hours, Leonard noted, and are exacerbated by the nearby charter school and churches. The intersections of Sidbury Road and the southern portion of Scotts Hill Loop Road create the biggest backups.
“We are continually reviewing the signal timing along this corridor,” Leonard said. “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve done all we can to assist U.S. 17.”
There is only so much time NCDOT can halt traffic signals to help with flow before vehicles start backing up, creating a possible safety issue, she added.
According to NCDOT reports, between 2014 and 2019, there were 25 crashes at the intersection of U.S. 17 and the southern leg of Scotts Hill Loop Road and 52 crashes at the intersection of Sidbury Road.
The project would relocate the U-turn locations further down the road away from the entrance to Sidbury and Scotts Hill Loop roads. It would help eliminate the need for excessive left turns across traffic.
“Those who would have otherwise made a left turn from U.S. 17 directly onto the side street would instead, with the improved situation, make a U-turn on U.S. 17 and travel back to make a right turn onto the side street,” NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland explained.
Adding dual turn lanes (as opposed to a single lane) is another possibility to increase traffic efficiency, allowing more vehicles to turn at once. The NCDOT congestion management unit — specializing in reviewing traffic impact analyses — is still in the preliminary stages of the plan.
While some of the suggested improvements to traffic flow fall on the incoming developers, Leonard explained NCDOT also analyzes overly congested areas. When it comes to essential projects that impact a large area, the burden should not fall on just one developer to fund those changes, she added.
Funding for this project would come from NCDOT’s operational budget. Leonard noted this money is separate from the 10-year State Transportation Improvement Program, which establishes the timeline and funding for statewide transportation projects. Therefore this project does not impact those already identified by local and regional transportation organizations within the STIP process.
Operational funds are typically used for projects considered high impact/low cost, which Leonard said fits the proposed U.S. 17 plan.
“This is going to have a safety impact but also going to change the traffic flow pretty substantially with very little investment,” commissioner chair David Piepmeyer said. “You’re going to see the results of that very quickly if this is done, if this is funded, for a minimal amount of dollars.”
“Yes, that is a good overview of high impact/low cost,” Leonard agreed. “It is as much a mobility project as it is safety.”
She added reduced-conflict intersections, or superstreets, don’t typically see high-level injury crashes due to the safer layout.
Once the design is at 25% completion, NCDOT will hold a public hearing for residents.
“This is not finalized by any means. We’re still working with congestion management to figure out how to move forward,” Leonard said. “Anything over $250,000 we bring forward to local government to ensure you are aware and understand what we’re proposing and you’re in support.”
The commissioners will provide a written resolution of support to NCDOT to continue pursuing the project.
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