The Holly Springs Town Council has endorsed a plan for reconfiguring the intersection of N.C. 55 Bypass and Avent Ferry Road to open up bottlenecks that are worst during morning and evening rush hours.
The proposed changes are designed to accomplish several things, but mostly to speed left turns from Avent Ferry Road onto N.C. 55 in the morning and right turns from the highway onto Avent Ferry in the afternoon.
The overloaded intersection was among the topics at the Town Council’s annual planning retreat Feb. 21-22 in Southern Pines. The configuration that the council approved was one of several design alternatives that were developed during an intersection traffic study commissioned by the Town and the N.C. Department of Transportation in 2013.
Cooling the town’s worst traffic hot spot will require lane and median additions plus signal light changes estimated to total $1.6 million.
For weeks, the Town has been talking with state officials about ways to share the $1.6 million cost. Possible sources of state funding that could provide up to two-thirds of the estimated cost have been identified. However, no state funding for the project has been approved yet.
NCDOT has final say over the intersection since both roads are state-maintained. If approved and funded, the changes could be in place within 12-18 months.
With the redesign, traffic turning left onto northbound N.C. 55 would get more green light time. That would help most during morning rush hour. A new “free flow” lane would allow highway traffic turning right onto Avent Ferry Road to avoid having to stop at the intersection. That would alleviate backups on Highway 55 on weekday afternoons.
To improve the most popular traffic movements, changes to other movements would be needed. For example, a motorist driving from Holly Springs High School en route to downtown would turn right onto N.C. 55 and make a U-turn to reach Avent Ferry Road on the other side of the bypass.
Traffic engineers believe the solution could last 10 years. After that, interchanges will be needed at Avent Ferry Road and at two other places along the bypass. An interchange could cost $15 million to $20 million and take up to a decade to implement. Because of that, the Town is asking that an interchange at Avent Ferry be included in NCDOT’s 7-10 year plan.
The Town has been working closely with NCDOT on the intersection since traffic backups worsened there late last summer. That was when the new I540 interchange and the final phases of the new superstreets along the bypass were completed.
The combination of I540 and the more efficient superstreet intersections caused traffic to be delivered faster to the Avent Ferry intersection, causing backups. In response, the Town and state Department of Construction commissioned the intersection study, which council members discussed at the retreat.
Meanwhile, other efforts to improve traffic flow on Avent Ferry Road continue.
In 2015, the Town will begin extending Main Street westward to Piney Grove Wilbon Road. That is expected to cut left-turning traffic from Avent Ferry Road onto N.C. 55 by a third. Planning for that project began three years ago.
The regional benefits of the proposed Main Street Extension project earned it 80-percent federal funding via NCDOT. However, that money cannot be used to improve Avent Ferry Road.
Town officials also continue searching for other state or federal funding toward the multi-million dollar expense of widening Avent Ferry Road in addition to improving the intersection at N.C. 55.