By Richard Sullins |

Construction on the relocation of the intersection of North Carolina Highway 78 and U.S. 1/15-501 won’t begin until the summer of 2025, more than a year after the U.S. Open golf tournament takes place in Pinehurst, Lee County Commissioners were told during a recent briefing on the status of several road projects across the county.

North Carolina Department of Transportation board member Lisa Mathis of Sanford and Division 8 Engineer Patrick Norman provided the consultation at the most recent meeting of the county commissioners on June 17 in response to a request from commission chairman Kirk Smith.

DOT is actually planning two projects in the region south of Sanford along U.S. 1, both in response to planned development and increased traffic along one of the city’s most heavily traveled roadways. The first begins near the split of U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 at White Hill Road and goes northward to a point that ends about a hundred yards south of the Tramway intersection.

The second project is roughly triangular in shape and begins just south of Bryan Drive and continues northward along U.S. 1 to a point just past Carthage Street. It also extends eastward for about a quarter of a mile along N.C. 78 (Tramway Road) before turning to the northwest and connecting with its Carthage Street boundary.

Norman said DOT has been doing survey work for the project since 2021 and has actively been obtaining the necessary right-of-way agreements with property owners during the past year. Over the next twelve months and through the end of the golf tournament, the focus moves to relocating “dry utilities,” or power and telecommunications cabling, and that work could begin in the coming weeks or months.

Competition at the U.S. Open begins on June 13, 2024, and concludes on June 16. Norman said DOT hopes to get as much of the above-ground utilities work done as possible before the congestion that accompanies a major sporting event like this happens. Afterwards, buried utilities like water and sewer lines will be moved, all in preparation for the beginning of construction that is set to start in August of 2025 if everything goes according to plan.

A redesigned intersection completed by 2028

The redesign of the current intersection of U.S. 1 and Center Church Road will be a “reduced conflict” intersection, known previously as a superstreet. A number of these were installed a few years ago when the G.B. Alford Highway, or N.C. 55 bypass, was upgraded in Holly Springs.

An example of a “reduced conflict intersection.” Courtesy of North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The new design provides several benefits to a city or town by limiting the number of left turns onto or across the roadway and thus reducing the number of potential conflicts in the traffic flow. By keeping the north and southbound lanes open as long as possible, more traffic can be handled on the roadway without increasing delays.

Norman told The Rant that “the direct crossing and left turn movements from Center Church Road to existing N.C. 78 or northbound U.S. 1 will be eliminated. The same will be in place for direct crossing and left turn movements from existing N.C. 78 to Center Church Road or southbound U.S. 1.”

Instead, those vehicles will be required to turn right and travel along U.S. 1 for a short distance before making a U-turn at a designated place along the highway.

The design will also give Sanford, or DOT, the capability to adjust the timing of traffic signals in ways that allow the speeds at which drivers move through the corridor to be controlled, something that can be varied throughout the day as traffic conditions may require.

Norman told the commissioners that U.S. 1 is a strategic transportation corridor, through which many tons of goods and products pass through the city each day.

“It may be that the city and the county will find the ability to control traffic speeds during times of alternating light and heavy use as one of their most often-used tools in making this new technology work in years to come. I think you will find it something you will make use of very often, because it’s the best way to make busy highways work for those who use them most,” he said.

A further added benefit of the design that makes it attractive from a cost benefit perspective is that it requires much less right-of-way or property purchases than adding lanes or constructing interchanges or overpasses.

It will take three years to finish the project once construction starts.

Relocating Tramway Road’s end

But there’s more to this $24 million project than simply changing the type of intersection where two busy roadways meet. DOT will make another major change to the flow of traffic by moving the actual ending point of Tramway Road about a quarter of a mile to the north of its present location.

The plan calls for relocating the road along a new path that would be located behind the VA Outpatient Clinic and the Westfield Rehabilitation and Health Center, and then connecting with U.S. 1’s northern traffic flow directly across from where Pendergrass Road ties into the highway’s southbound lanes.

Tramway Road’s new exit point would hook up with U.S. 1 traffic headed north at a spot that would bring it through the present location of the WWGP/WFJA radio station, an AM transmission tower that stands directly behind it, and close to Discount Floors and Furniture just to the north before the Carthage Street exit.

Norman said DOT continues to be engaged in discussions with the ownership of the radio station about the impacts of the plan on its studios and tower, and that they are looking at options that could reduce some of those impacts and at others that could help facilitate any relocations that might be necessary.

DOT considered two differing alternatives for several years before settling on this option as its best choice. The one that was ultimately not selected would have brought the road between the VA Clinic and Westfield on its way to tying into U.S. 1 instead of behind both facilities, but that option was scuttled about four years ago.

Commission Vice Chairman Andre Knecht asked whether DOT had conducted any traffic counts and speed checks along the other end of Tramway Road where it goes through downtown Jonesboro before ending at Horner Boulevard.

Norman said he was not aware of any that might have been performed but did promise to return with an answer to Knecht’s question as soon as he had one. Knecht expressed his appreciation and told Norman the commissioners were getting many reports of speeding through the business district.

No Impact on Tramway school

None of this work, however, will impact the traffic backups that occur at Tramway Elementary when students are brought to the school in the morning or picked up in the afternoon. These are commonplace at many schools across the state, particularly at elementary schools, where being aware of personal safety is a concept that is just being learned and students may still be anxious moving in an unfamiliar environment.

Norman said that other factors also limit the ability for traffic to move more quickly at any school in peak periods, not just at Tramway. Among these is a limited capacity to “stack” vehicles that are coming to and going from schools during peak periods, a lack of efficiency at drop-off points, and a lack of understanding from school administrators on how best to route through the campus in order to maximize the number of vehicles that can be held briefly as the process moves forward.

The District 8 office in Carthage sometimes has funding to help with these issues and has a group in their engineering branch that specializes in reviewing school sites and making recommendations for improvements to traffic flows. Norman said the Tramway campus was last reviewed in 2019 and recommendations were made to have more cars on campus at one time and moving more quickly, but he said they were not well-received by the administration due to concerns about security and about having that many cars on campus at one time.

Other projects

Norman provided brief updates on a few other DOT priorities within the county, including one on its bicycle plan that was adopted in 2011.

He said while there currently are no dedicated bike routes within the county, there is hope for funding to help improve some roads that could be improved to also serve that purpose.

Norman explained that once a road has more than 1,000 vehicles traveling it per day, DOT begins to look at how that same traffic impacts bicyclists who may be sharing the road with them.

A DOT survey found only three roads outside the major four-lane highways that begin to meet the definition of possible bicycle routes: Cumnock Road (3,200 vehicles per day), Colon Road (2,600 vehicles per day), and Lower Moncure Road (1,100 vehicles per day).

Of these, the existing pavement on Cumnock Road is rated as being in very good condition, Colon Road’s surface is in good shape, and Lower Moncure Road is rated as being in poor condition. However, none of the three – or any others surveyed by DOT – has anywhere close to the recommended five feet of lane width on either side of the road for bike traffic.

But while there are sources of funding available that could be applied to creating bike paths, and most of them would be derived from state sources, they are not large enough to purchase the right-of-way needed to create any new lanes.

Smith asked if Norman had any recent information about access points for the Multi-Sports Complex to connect with N.C. 42 (Broadway Road). Norman responded that no new information exists as of now but promised to return as soon as it becomes available.