September 12, 2017

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           New NC 58 Roundabout – Mallard Drive / Publix - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

I have scheduled time on the September 12 meeting agenda to better educate the Board and the community about the new NC 58 roundabout that will be constructed this winter.  Bryan Fagundus, the project engineer, will explain the design and function of the roundabout, and will also be available to answer any questions.

The NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) recently approved the attached plans for the new NC 58 roundabout, which will be constructed at the intersection of Mallard Drive / Emerald Landing Drive.  Construction is expected to occur between mid/late November and early March, with a goal to have all roundabout construction work completed before the annual Emerald Isle St. Patrick’s Festival (Saturday, March 17).  As you know, the new roundabout is being financed and constructed by the new Publix grocery store that is expected to open later in spring 2018.

Background / “Pilot Project” for Potential Future Roundabout Installation

As you may recall, NCDOT has previously recommended the installation of roundabouts at 4 other NC 58 intersections in Emerald Isle (Coast Guard Road, Loon Drive / Emerald Plantation, Mangrove Drive, and Bogue Inlet Drive).  This NCDOT recommendation was identified during the regional NC 58 Corridor Study in 2015, and NCDOT attended the Board’s December 2015 meeting to educate the Board and the community about roundabouts.  I have attached a copy of the supporting information from the December 2015 meeting, which includes many illustrative examples, a NCDOT presentation on roundabout safety, and a list of 223 roundabout locations in North Carolina (as of September 2014).

The new Publix roundabout is specifically designed to promote the efficient movement of traffic instead of a new traffic signal, which was the other alternative that was considered when the Publix plans were reviewed in 2016.  Thus, the question at hand at that time was not whether or not to install a roundabout, but rather whether to utilize a roundabout or a new traffic signal.  As you may recall, NCDOT reviewed a third-party traffic study for the new Publix store that indicated that either a new roundabout or a new traffic signal would be effective in managing traffic impacts associated with the new Publix, and NCDOT expressed a preference for a roundabout in light of the other NCDOT roundabout recommendations. 

As determined previously by the Board, the Town’s official position on the NCDOT-recommended roundabouts has been open-minded, but has not yet been solidified.  The new Publix roundabout was endorsed by the Board as a "pilot project" when the Publix plans were approved in November 2016 specifically to enable the community and the Board to further evaluate the effectiveness of roundabouts for the other proposed locations in Emerald Isle in the future.  As discussed previously, the Town expects to continue to work with NCDOT in the coming years to implement traffic improvements along NC 58 in Emerald Isle, potentially including the additional roundabouts recommended by NCDOT - - -  IF the new Publix roundabout is effective.  Essentially, the Town's experience with the new Publix roundabout will likely guide future decisions regarding additional roundabouts in Emerald Isle. 

It is important to note that The Town's Comprehensive Land Use Plan, adopted by the Board after more than a year-long process to gather public input, notes that the Town does not support traffic improvements that will hinder safe and convenient access between the ocean side and sound side, and the widening of NC 58 and the Emerald Isle bridge from the current 2 and 3 lanes to 4 or 5 lanes is contrary to this policy.  This has been the Town's official position since at least 2004, and is also based on significant public input that the character of Emerald Isle would be harmed if a 4 or 5 lane road divided the ocean and sound sides of the Town.  In the absence of additional lanes, there are limited options available to promote the more efficient movement of traffic along NC 58, and NCDOT believes that the proposed roundabouts can lead to incremental improvement in traffic flow on NC 58 in Emerald Isle.  

NCDOT-Approved Design

The new roundabout includes design features intended to enhance safety, allow pedestrian crossings in a safe manner, and create "breaks" in traffic flow to allow for side-street traffic to enter the roundabout.  The roundabout construction will be supplemented with additional street and sidewalk improvements along Emerald Landing Drive and Crew Drive (also financed and constructed by the new Publix grocery store). 

Bryan Fagundus will explain the design and function in more detail at the September 12 meeting, but I have summarized the key design features below:

  • it is primarily a simple, single-lane roundabout, with one area having two lanes (south portion) in order to accommodate more traffic turning into Publix when coming from the west on NC 58,
  • there is a direct right turn onto Mallard Drive (to enter Emerald Landing and Publix) for drivers coming from the east on NC 58, and also a direct right turn onto NC 58 for drivers leaving Emerald Landing, Publix, or Emerald Plantation via Crew Drive --- thus, these vehicles don’t need to really enter the roundabout,
  • the NC 58 pavement to be adjusted is essentially from a point just east of the Transportation Impact building to approximately the middle of the Publix property,
  • a new vegetated median will be constructed from a point just east of the Transportation Impact building up to the Mallard Drive intersection, and there are also concrete island features around the 4 “spokes” of the roundabout,
  • a new pedestrian crossing will be installed across NC 58 on the east side of the roundabout feature,
  • the project engineers and NCDOT have specifically considered the geometry of the approaches and the merges into and out of the roundabout, and these features are key design elements,  
  • the center of the roundabout includes an approximately 57 ft. diameter vegetated area, and an approximately 14 ½ ft. wide concrete apron all around the center that will look like a sidewalk, but allow large vehicles (tractor trailers, etc.) to easily maneuver through and around the roundabout, and
  • ideally, the center of the new roundabout will be nicely landscaped, and may also be a good location (perhaps only temporary) for the placement of the planned new “Welcome to Emerald Isle” sign or other public art features.

Construction Schedule, Detour Plan

As noted earlier, construction is expected to occur between mid/late November and early March in order to minimize the impact on traffic flow in Emerald Isle.  In addition to specifically targeting this time of the year, Town staff, the project engineer, NCDOT officials, and the contractor continue to work together to identify strategies to expedite the construction schedule and minimize the duration of the planned detour in this area. 

The contractor for the construction of the roundabout is SunLand Builders, which is owned by an Emerald Isle resident.  SunLand is very sensitive to the community’s concerns, and will be working hard to minimize any construction and detour impacts.  During construction, NC 58 will need to be closed between Islander Drive and Loon Drive, with a detour down Reed Drive and Crew Drive.  It is important to note that Crew Drive will remain passable the entire time during construction of the new roundabout.

Town staff will make a significant effort to educate the community about the detour and any associated traffic impacts.  Additionally, the Police Department will have a frequent presence along Reed Drive between Loon Drive and East Seaview Drive to prevent excessive speeding in this residential neighborhood by drivers who may choose this route in addition to the detour.  Finally, we will be working with the contractor, NCDOT, and local businesses in the coming weeks to make the detour route as convenient as possible for large trucks transiting the detour.

I look forward to discussing the new roundabout with the Board at the September 12 meeting.