Split council rejects 15th Street proposal

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The proposed 15th Street project in Washington will not happen.

The Washington City Council voted 3-2 Monday night not to proceed with the widening of the section of the street from Carolina Avenue to U.S. Highway 264. Voting for the motion not to proceed with the project were council members Doug Mercer, Richard Brooks and Virginia Finnerty. Council members Larry Beeman and William Pitt voted against the motion.

Strong opposition to the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s plan to modify that section arose last fall, resulting in multiple appearances before the council by those who opposed the project with a price tag around $16 million to $20 million. During the meeting, several of those opposed to the project continued to voice their opposition to the council, citing many of the same concerns they’ve discussed at previous council meetings and at least one Planning Board meeting in the past several months. Some residents and business owners along the project corridor oppose raised medians, U-turn locations and other elements of the proposed project. Others said they worry the project, if built as proposed by DOT, would hinder response times of emergency personnel, add to drainage problems along the 15th Street corridor from Carolina Avenue to U.S. Highway 264 and hinder access to businesses.

Over the past several years, since a 15th Street project has been on the drawing board, DOT officials have maintained the project’s goal was to reduce the number of vehicles crashes on 15th Street from Carolina Avenue to U.S. Highway 264. Crashes in that corridor occur about 1.5 times more frequently than crashes on similar roads in other areas of the state, according to the latest DOT figures.

Some of those who oppose the project contend there is no hard evidence it would reduce the number of accidents along that corridor. Others describe the project as ill conceived and one that would create more problems than it would solve.

Former Washington Mayor Floyd Brothers, who lives on Washington Street near 15th Street, said the project is not what Washington needs. Brothers reminded the council and mayor they work for city residents should heed the desires of their constituents. Some opponents said a better, less-expensive plan to address DOT’s concerns with that section of 15th Street might be acceptable in the future.

William Kincannon, DOT’s resident engineer for its Division 2, said DOT heard opponents’ concerns and changed the project plans to reflect those concerns. Specifically, Kincannon said, the raised medians proposed for the area from Tayloe’s Hospital Pharmacy eastward to U.S. 264 were removed. Kincannon said he observed traffic flow in that area one night for several hours and determined the medians should be removed from the plan. He also said he asked DOT traffic engineers to take another look at the proposal to relocate the traffic signal at the intersection of 15th and Washington streets to the intersection of 15th and Pierce streets.

Pitt said he was willing to work toward a better, less-expensive plan that took in opponents’ concerns and addressed safety issues in the project corridor. “We need to do the reasonable, right and prudent thing for every single citizen of Washington and Beaufort County,” he said.

Mercer, a council member for 14 years, said the 15th Street project “has generated more interest in what this council has done than anything I have seen in that 14 years.” He continued: “The citizens have come forth. They said, ‘We don’t want what you’ve got there. We think there’s a problem on 15th Street, but this isn’t the solution.’ Therefore, I move we not adopt the resolution as presented.’

His remarks were met with applause by most people in the audience. The Council Chambers could not hold everyone who attended the meeting, forcing some people to other areas of City Hall.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

email author More by Mike