ROCKINGHAM — The North Carolina Department of Transportation has started two major road projects in Richmond County, one for progress and one for safety.
Along U.S. Route 220 the construction of service roads marks the first phase of an ongoing upgrade. W.C. English of Lynchburg, Va., is working under a $49.8 million contract for DOT for the duration of this project. Once the service roads are opened, all traffic will be diverted to them as construction moves to the center of the highway.
“The project consists of upgrading four miles of U.S. 220 to interstate standard,” said Kevin Hedrick, DOT district engineer. “That part will then become Interstate 73-74. Driveways will be replaced by service roads, providing four more miles of controlled highway.”
Interstates are safer for drivers since they reduce the number of entry points to the road and they are more convenient because speed limits are higher, Hedrick said. The estimated time for completion of this section of the project is October 2017.
Ultimately, the project will extend to the Pee Dee River. A second, distant phase of the project includes a bypass around the city.
The other project focuses on southbound U.S. Route 1, south of Rockingham where it intersects with 220 — a notorious hazard area for motorists. Despite several signs warning drivers to “stop ahead,” rumble strips and flashing lights on the final stop sign, officials said this intersection still sees numerous accidents due to drivers flying through without stopping.
According to a DOT traffic engineering intersection analysis report, there were 18 accidents at the intersection between 2008 and 2012. Henrick said there were a number of fatalities prior to 2008 and one fatality which occurred in July 2013 that are not reflected in the five-year report.
“Heading south of Rockingham we are making a new road,” said Bradley Odom, employee of the Richmond County DOT. “Where you pull up and there’s that flashing stop sign, that’s not going to be there anymore due to the fatalities at that little stop sign.”
According to the aerial photo supplied by the DOT, the current interchange at U.S. Route 1 and 220 will have all pavement removed. U.S. 1 will be extended farther south and east to a shoulder that will merge traffic back onto 220 northbound at a location with better line of sight, allowing for access to a safer turning lane back onto southbound U.S. Route 1.
Odom and Johnny Brock, assistant district engineer, are doing the surveying for the spot safety project — a designation for work conducted by the local district and paid for by funds allocated by the DOT to improve road conditions in dangerous areas. Henrick estimates the total cost of the project will be $230,000 and, weather permitting, it will be completed by the end of April.
“This is a division-led project,” Brock said. “A state crew out of the Richmond County DOT maintenance yard are doing the work that’s happening there. The paving part will be done by contract later on. At this time, there is no contract for the paving and no plans have been discussed for that.”