Officials plan 15th Street turn lane|Move prompted by driver complaints

Published 12:59 am Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Staff Writer

Officials say they’re nearly ready to start adding an extra lane to 15th Street.
“A commitment has been made: Money has been appropriated, and plans have been drawn,” said Woody Jarvis, N.C. Department of Transportation district engineer. “We’re just trying to make sure everyone agrees with what we’re doing.”
The plan, which has been in serious development for about three months, would expand the road northward for several blocks, allowing for the inclusion of a center turn lane, Jarvis said. The expansion would begin at Bridge Street in the east and continue past Pierce and Washington streets before ending at Minute Man Lane, which is across from the Washington Square Mall, he said.
The City of Washington Department of Public Works is coordinating with N.C. DOT, and with utility authorities who control some lines that run along the street.
Funding will come from the state Division of Highways and from money secured by N.C. Rep. Arthur Williams. Williams said he convinced N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight and Joe Hackney, speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, to give money from discretionary funds they control.
“There are some traffic problems there, and there were some wrecks there, and then Mayflower Restaurant was going there” which would only increase traffic, Williams said.
Local residents have also been worried by the traffic on the street, and a recent call to Sound Off suggesting such a turn lane has sparked several replies. Jarvis said the work is “very much” a response to repeated requests from city officials.
Washington Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said that development on the road prompted neighbors to complain about traffic and accidents, which helped Washington pitch the project.
“Eventually, we screamed and yelled loud enough that somebody found the money to do it,” she said.
All but one of the property owners over whose land the expansion will run donated their property, Jennette said. The city may end up having to condemn the rest of the land, but it’s not yet certain, she said.
And while the expansion likely will help traffic on 15th Street, it may not be a permanent fix, she said.
“I think the day’s going to come when we’re going to have to widen the whole thing, but I think this is a great start,” Jennette said.
In the meantime, state officials are hoping to get the remaining kinks worked out and construction started.
“We’re hoping to get at it as soon as we can,” Jarvis said.