Editorial: Increased Development Requires Independent Traffic Study

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 05 April 2017 04:00

Managing Editor

The Town of Carolina Beach  should identify that with increased commercial and residential development, it's time for a detailed study of how much traffic our major roadways can handle before major issues of pedestrian safety and traffic congestion occur.

The Council will consider approving a new traffic plan for a planned Harris Teeter grocery store and fuel station on North Lake Park Blvd during their upcoming April 11th, meeting.

Benjamin Hughes, PE - District Engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation - sent a letter to the Town of Carolina Beach on Thursday March 9th just before noon. That letter outlined concerns regarding the new traffic pattern to make way for a future Harris Teeter grocery store and fuel station at 1000 North Lake Park Blvd.

(Read the report on page 1-A of this week's edition)

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a proposal at their March 9th, meeting to modify a Conditional Use Permit to construct the new Harris Teeter Store.

The modification concerns changing the previously proposed traffic pattern requiring relocation of a nearby traffic light-intersection and instead leaving the existing light at the entrance of adjacent Federal Point Shopping Center. The new plan calls for a turning lane in front of Harris Teeter's property and restricting traffic to turn right into the parking lot and only turn right when exiting the main entrance.

The Harris Teeter parking lot would be interconnected to the neighboring Federal Point Shopping Center and permit access to the adjacent stop light via those connections.

In short, Hughes explained, "Without the warranted left-turn lane at the existing signalized intersection and with the location of the main site access as currently proposed, the projected development traffic is not able to be mitigated according to Department policy."

Hughes cautioned the Town about traffic delays and explained, "Consequently, significant traffic delays are to be expected as a result of this commercial development. The traffic generated by a development of this size and scale in this location is unable to be adequately mitigated. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the overall traffic volume intensity of this development be curtailed through the enforcement of existing zoning regulations."

Hughes said NCDOT will require the Council to adopt a resolution officially asking them to sign off on a permit for the traffic pattern on Lake Park Blvd.

Mr. Hughes is a traffic engineer and he is being quite clear about the impacts the plan will have on a large section of the main commercial traffic artery in Carolina Beach.

Considering the age of the existing Federal Point Shopping Center and their reluctance to issue a long term lease to the Town of Carolina Beach for their Operations Department several years ago, that shopping center is likely to be redeveloped in the near future once Harris Teeter builds a new store and gas station. And the Harris Teeter property will already be interconnected to the Federal Point Shopping Center property making future redevelopment even more attractive.

The Jungle Golf property to the south of the Harris Teeter property was recently sold and the developers are planning a new commercial development at that location.

That means traffic along North Lake Park Blvd will increase with each new project. Perhaps the Town should take a more comprehensive look at the area, the impacts outlined by Mr. Hughes, and come up with a longer range plan rather than making a decision based upon the isolated traffic statistics offered by representatives of the Harris Teeter project.
The current proposal means  north bound vehicles will only be able to turn right into Harris Teeter's main entrance and only turn right when exiting via that entrance. North and south bound traffic will still be able to turn at the light at the Federal Point Shopping Center and access Harris Teeter through a connecting drive between the two properties.
That's a very restrictive traffic pattern that will lead to motorists using other businesses parking lots in order to make a u-turn to ultimately access Harris Teeter's parking lot.

Not to mention the people that will likely use Saint Joseph Street as an alternate route to enter the new parking lot from the rear entrance and avoid congestion on Lake Park Blvd.

Local residents know their way around. Many tourists aren't as familiar with the side streets and short cuts.

This has nothing to do with "Harris Teeter" being a good or bad project for Carolina Beach. On the contrary, this Town welcomes new businesses to the area. More jobs, increased property and sales tax revenues.

The Town Council needs to take a more comprehensive look at the broader question of traffic capacity, congestion and how much load that section of Lake Park Blvd can actually handle.

That would provide a solid foundation of data upon which leaders can use to make informed decisions that address the needs of new business development while balancing that with the needs of the citizens and other small businesses in the area. It's a quality of life issue.

The Planning Commission was informed of NCDOT's concern about the lack of a left turn lane for south bound traffic at the stop light at Federal Point, but the Commission should have at least been presented with a copy of Mr. Hughes letter that was recieved before noon that same day. The Commission's meeting was held later that evening at 6:30pm.

The Commission did discuss traffic impacts and how motorists would access the new development but those discussions may have been impacted by the information contained in that letter. Not to say the information would have changed their decision to recommend Council approval, but it may have caused a desire to solicit more information based on Hughes concerns.

Now it's up to Council to weigh Mr. Hughes input and make the ultimate decision.

During a March 28th, Council workshop, Council member Leann Pierce expressed concern with increased commercial growth and the safety of people crossing North Lake Park Blvd  in the same area. (See her comments in the same report starting on page 1-A...)


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