DOT resists calls for crossing signal on U.S. 70

Aug. 17, 2014 @ 03:58 PM

N.C. Department of Transportation engineers are standing firm in their refusal of requests from city officials and a Durham advisory board that they install pedestrian-crossing signals at a key intersection along U.S. 70.

“Their viewpoint is they don’t feel it’s warranted and isn’t safe,” city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said of the request, which calls for installing the crossing lights at the corner of U.S. 70 and Pleasant Drive as part of upcoming work on the East End Connector.

Ahrendsen’s comments echoed those of Joey Hopkins, DOT’s deputy division engineer for the Durham area. Hopkins did say, however, that DOT is willing to “revisit” the matter if changing development or traffic patterns warrant.

Hopkins added that “nobody [at DOT] has felt comfortable with encouraging pedestrians to cross U.S. 70 there.”

The intersection is likely to become more important after construction of the East End Connector – a roughly 2-mile freeway link between U.S. 70 and the Durham Freeway.

Builders as part of the project will have to rework several intersections along the U.S. 70 corridor, including one to the north of Pleasant Drive at Lynn Road that now serves as a bus stop.

The changes to the Lynn Road intersection – including the elimination of a Durham Area Transit Authority bus stop there – are likely to channel more vehicle and pedestrian traffic through the Pleasant Drive crossing, said Erik Landfried, chairman of Durham’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission.

Landfried’s panel has been the most vocal advocate of accommodating pedestrians at 70 and Pleasant, part of what he says is a long stretch of the highway that lacks easy crossings.

“This is an opportunity to start to chip away at that,” he said.

Hopkins and Ahrendsen said there isn’t now a lot of pedestrian activity at the U.S. 70/Pleasant Drive intersection.

The DOT engineer added that there’s also “not a lot of reasons” for people to want to cross there, as the land around it is only lightly developed.

But “a big commercial project is a game-changer, and we’d need to look at it,” he said, acknowledging the possibility of future development at the corner.

Landfried, however, said people do cross the highway there and added that local officials are trying to encourage development in the 70 corridor.

“The way it’s designed was not designed for creating pedestrian activity, but it’s going to exist, and it would it nice to have something out there to mitigate some of the risks for the people who are going to cross that road,” Landfried said.

In supporting the commission’s request, city Transportation Department officials have argued that “it’s not so much we’re trying to encourage pedestrian activity as safely accommodate it,” Ahrendsen said.

Hopkins pointed out that the upcoming changes to the U.S. 70 corridor won’t be the last. Local officials hope to secure state funding soon for a $109 million project that would convert the relevant segment of U.S. 70 into a freeway.

If that pays off, as part of the resulting project “you’d have to come up with a longer-term solution to get people across 70,” on foot or in vehicles, he said.