Memo-04-12-2016-Item12

April 12, 2016

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

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

SUBJECT:           Resolution Requesting NC 58 Traffic Improvements

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider the attached Resolution  Requesting NC 58 Traffic Improvements at the April 12 meeting.  The attached resolution formally conveys the Town’s request for beneficial traffic improvements along NC 58 to the Carteret County Transportation Committee, the Down East Rural Planning Organization (DERPO), and, ultimately, the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT).  The formal resolution is intended to promote the inclusion of beneficial traffic improvements along NC 58 in Emerald Isle in the updated State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) that is expected to be released in draft form in December 2016.  The ultimate goal, then, is for these improvements to ultimately be funded by NCDOT during the next five – ten years, by virtue of their inclusion in the updated STIP. 

Recent Background

The Down East Rural Planning Organization, as requested by the Carteret County Transportation Committee, has been working on the NC 58 Corridor Study for the past year+, and this study seeks to identify beneficial traffic improvements along NC 58 from the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection, all along Bogue Banks, to the NC 58 / US 70 intersection in Morehead City.  As you know, as part of this effort there has been considerable discussion in recent months about the potential installation of new roundabouts (or mini-roundabouts) at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle.  Based on preliminary analysis, DERPO staff and NCDOT staff believe that roundabouts may be effective in improving traffic flow in Emerald Isle.  DERPO staff and NCDOT staff have indicated that additional analysis and design is necessary to fully evaluate the effectiveness of roundabouts at 1 or more of the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle, and have indicated that any final decision to pursue the installation of roundabouts would be made in partnership with the Town.  If roundabouts are ultimately not pursued, or are only pursued at certain intersections, I am optimistic that NCDOT will proceed with other beneficial traffic improvements at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle.  Other beneficial traffic improvements might ultimately include traffic signal improvements (i.e, improved signal timing, improved technology, new steel traffic signal poles), additional new and/or longer turn lanes (i.e., a dedicated right turn lane from NC 58 eastbound onto Coast Guard Road, new turn lanes at other intersections), and/or other intersection or roadway improvements (i.e., realignment of curb and gutter, commercial driveways in the “downtown” area, etc.) aimed at improving traffic flow through Emerald Isle.  I am also optimistic that any future traffic improvements will also enhance bicycle and pedestrian facilities and the aesthetics of the NC 58 corridor through Emerald Isle.

As noted, the NC 58 Corridor Study is also considering beneficial traffic improvements at the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection on the mainland.  This intersection is obviously critical to the overall traffic flow into and out of Emerald Isle, and is viewed as an important component of any future traffic improvements aimed at addressing peak traffic flow in Emerald Isle.  The construction of an elevated interchange at the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection has long been discussed by others, and was recently discussed by the Board of Commissioners at the February 19 workshop meeting.  At that meeting, the Board indicated its belief that any future traffic improvements at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle should also be packaged with a new interchange at the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection. 

State Transportation Improvement Program Process

In order to ultimately receive significant State funding for transportation improvements, it is necessary to be included in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).  The STIP is a 5-year / 10-year NCDOT planning document, and this document is the necessary first step in ultimately making a transportation improvement project a reality in the future.  In our region, the process for being included in the STIP is as follows:

  • identification of potential projects (by NCDOT and/or local entities),

  • preliminary “scoring” of potential projects by NCDOT staff,

  • assignment of additional regional and division“points” by the Carteret County Transportation Committee and the Down East Rural Planning Organization, based on County and regional priorities,

  • inclusion in the draft STIP by NCDOT,

  • solicitation of public comments, and

  • inclusion in the final STIP by NCDOT (anticipated by May 2017).

The Carteret County Transportation Committee (on which Mayor Barber serves) will review potential County projects at its upcoming April and May meetings, and will develop the County’s transportation priorities at that time.  The Down East Rural Planning Organization (on which Mayor Barber also serves) will then review the transportation priorities of all counties in our region later this year, and will develop the entire region’s priorities.  Inclusion on the priority list for each of these groups can only enhance the Town’s chances of having any beneficial traffic improvements along NC 58 included in the draft STIP to be released in December. The attached resolution is aimed at Emerald Isle being included on these groups’ list of transportation priorities.

Specific Request in the Attached Resolution

If the Board approves the attached resolution, I will forward it to the Carteret County Transportation Committee, Down East Rural Planning Organization, and NCDOT as a formal expression of the Town’s request for the following:

  1. that NCDOT pursue a package of traffic improvements along the NC 58 corridor in Emerald Isle that includes both improvements at the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection and at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle,

  2. that a new elevated interchange be constructed at the NC 58 / NC 24 intersection in conjunction with traffic improvements at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle, and

  3. that NCDOT complete additional analysis and design of potential improvements for the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle to enable NCDOT and the Town to jointly determine specific improvements, which may include traffic signal improvements, turn lane improvements, installation of roundabouts or mini-roundabouts, and/or other intersection improvements.

The Board should note that the attached resolution does not (at this time) commit the Town to the installation of roundabouts at 1 or more of the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle.  Rather, it will allow additional analysis and design to continue, and will promote the inclusion of beneficial traffic improvements along NC 58 in Emerald Isle in the updated STIP.  This additional analysis and design may ultimately lead to the installation of roundabouts in Emerald Isle, but only after further review and approval by the Board of Commissioners in partnership with NCDOT.  As noted above, if roundabouts are ultimately not pursued, or are only pursued at certain intersections, I am optimistic that NCDOT will proceed with other beneficial traffic improvements at the 4 signalized intersections in Emerald Isle.

Summary, and Some Historical Context

In short, I am hopeful that Board adoption of the attached resolution will keep potential traffic improvements along NC 58 in Emerald Isle at the forefront of discussion by local, regional, and State decision makers, and that this effort will ultimately result in State funding for beneficial traffic improvements (regardless of what form they may ultimately take) in Emerald Isle within the next five - ten years.  As noted above, it is critical to be included in STIP, and Emerald Isle can point to two historical examples of this impact for context.  First, it is believed that an interchange at the NC 58 and NC 24 intersection has historically (and will likely in the future) scored well in NCDOT’s scoring system.  This project was actually considered by Emerald Isle in 2000, however, the Board of Commissioners expressed opposition to this project at that time, and it has not advanced further over the past 16 years.  Second, and more importantly for Emerald Isle, the Town’s NC 58 bicycle path project from Black Skimmer Drive to the Indian Beach town line was included in the STIP in the mid / late 2000s.  In 2009, when the Federal “economic stimulus package” (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) was authorized, Emerald Isle was fortunate to receive $500,000 from NCDOT (Federal funds were passed through to the State) to extend the NC 58 bicycle path from Black Skimmer Drive to Hurst Drive.  If the NC 58 bicycle path project had not been included in the STIP, these funds would likely have never been realized by the Town.

I look forward to discussing the attached resolution with the Board at the April 12 meeting.