South River Road signs

A cyclist wheels by speed-reduction signs posted along South River Road.

By Dave Russell

 

Talking to law enforcement, county commissioners, the N.C. Department of Transportation and leaders of Western Carolina University has not solved the traffic problems on North and South River roads, residents say.

Citizens for River Road Safety formed last spring to call attention to the issues – speeding, dump trucks and speeding dump trucks – on the roads.

They purchased and used a radar gun in July to document the problem and bring it to the attention of officials.

A member of the group monitored traffic again using the radar gun shortly after Thanksgiving, one of the group’s organizers, Pam Krauss, said.

“I can’t say we accomplished much,” she said. “The results were pretty similar, still a lot of speeding. That’s the biggest problem that we’re trying to solve. It’s universal, all kinds of cars.”

After the group’s initial complaints last year, Krauss said that for a while, law enforcement did seem to patrol more often, but not lately.

Dump trucks, which residents feel are too wide and drive too fast for the roads, are another problem.

According to the group’s data, from 3-3:30 p.m. July 8, 26 dump trucks traveled the 900 block of South River Road.

Last July, Jackson County Sheriff Chip Hall told The Sylva Herald enforcement was a manpower issue for his department.

“Unfortunately, we have enough to do with the drug problems in the county,” Hall said. “The Highway Patrol does most of the traffic enforcement.”

Krauss plans to go to a commission budget meeting to urge a bigger budget for the sheriff’s office, she said.

“The question is, ‘Does he need more resources?’” Krauss said. “Can commissioners give the sheriff someone who is designated for speed control all over the county? We don’t doubt what he said, but this is also a problem, and it is not just our road.”

At the request of Webster Mayor Tracy Rodes, DOT performed a spot study in both lanes of North River Road near the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Wastewater Treatment Plant using a HI-STAR portable vehicle detector from 10 a.m. July 16 until 10 a.m. July 17.

The device measured 2,205 vehicles in 15-minute intervals. The average speed was 44 mph in the 40 mph zone, with 3.17 percent of vehicles exceeding 55 mph.

Departments of transportation use an 85th percentile metric to set speed limits and minimize crashes, Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said. That measurement is the speed that 85 percent of all vehicles travel under free-flowing conditions.

In this study, the 85th percentile speed was 51.09 mph.

“That 85th percentile is where most people feel comfortable driving a certain speed,” Burch said. “Most people have a feeling of what is proper and safe, and we try to post speed limits close to that speed. We felt like the speed limits that are out there are proper, based on our study, it would not warrant dropping the speed limits.”

Krauss’ husband, Eric Myers, said the DOT told them that the situation could worsen when construction on U.S. Business 23/N.C. 107 begins as the roads could be used as a bypass.

In an attempt to track enforcement of speed on the road, Myers tried to track where deputies had written tickets lately.

The Sheriff’s Office does not track the locations, and at the Clerk of Court office, the citations are filed alphabetically and time-consuming to go through, he said.

The group has been quieter lately.

“It’s winter, and our windows are closed, and we’re not out in our gardens,” Krauss said. “We haven’t been counting trucks, but they are there. We have a petition with over 100 signatures on it. We thought we would submit to commissioners.”

The group is not giving up, Myers said.

They would like to see those in power implement the following:

• Expanded enforcement of speed limits and other traffic regulations.

• A speed limit reduction appropriate for the vehicle mix and road conditions.

• To reduce or eliminate usage by damaging heavy or oversized vehicles and/or improve the roads to accommodate them.

• To declare the roads scenic byways to provide for safety and enjoyment of the Tuckaseigee River.

• To take other steps that would encourage safe use and enjoyment of the road.

• Use every avenue available to improve the safety of North and South River roads.