Catch 22 for Macon Middle intersection

Macon County leaders are at odds with the N.C. Department of Transportation over the placement, or lack thereof, of a stoplight at an intersection near Macon Middle School.

For two years, Macon County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been stationed at the intersection of Wells Grove and Clarks Chapel during peak traffic times when school is in session. Sheriff Robbie Holland said two deputies each day direct traffic in the morning as cars pour into and out of the school’s parking lot.

Holland said he thought the arrangement would only last a year while the DOT went through the process of placing a stoplight at the intersection. Recently, DOT announced they would not put a traffic light there, but rather are considering a right-turn lane to relive congestion among cars turning to go to the school.

Holland was not happy with the decision and claimed many others in the community agree with him.

“You can talk to anybody who comes through that intersection, and nobody will tell you there is no need for traffic signal of some sort,” Holland said.

His deputies spend a total of 15 man-hours per week at that intersection directing traffic when they could be doing other duties, he said. And now, he said his agency may be in a predicament because if they withdraw the extra deputies used to direct traffic and a major accident occurs at that intersection, he and his office may be held liable.

But adding a stoplight may actually make the intersection more dangerous, according to Scott Cook, the state’s traffic engineer for DOT’s Division 14, which covers the state’s ten far western counties. Rear-end crashes increase at intersections where traffic lights are added, he said.

“A traffic signal can create a liability issue — if they are not warranted,” Cook said. “Then if a crash happened, there may be questions asked as to why one was put there.”

A traffic light can also cause unnecessary delays and cost more than $100,000 to install, he said.

About a year ago, Macon County asked the DOT to assess the situation at that intersection, Cook said. His division sent a person, on two separate occasions, to monitor the intersection for 12 to 16 hours and count all traffic turns made. He said the observations were made during the school year, but the traffic volume calculated did not warrant placement of a traffic light.

The assessment also looked at five years of crash history at the intersection and analyzed whether they would have been remediated by the presence of a traffic light — though Holland contends his agency’s efforts to station deputies at the intersection has prevented that number from being much higher.

Cook said the results pushed his division toward finding a different solution than a traffic light, and it’s now in the preliminary stages of implementing the right turn lane.

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