DUBLIN — Officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation and local school officials are on opposite sides of the street when it comes to the state’s plan to construct a roundabout at the intersection of N.C. 41 and N.C. 410 — just west of Bladen Community College and north of West Bladen High.
Long before that roundabout is created, however, NCDOT plans to implement a four-way stop at the location.
“I don’t like it, and I’m sure there are a lot of parents who don’t like it either,” said West Bladen Principal Peggy Hester. “We just have so many new and young drivers in that area, between the high school and Bladen Community College, it doesn’t make sense. A four-way stop will create a hazard and so will the roundabout.”
According to Drew Cox, NCDOT district engineer, the idea to install a roundabout at the location was based on an incident history that showed “frequent accidents” in that area.
“There were 31 accidents within a five-year period at that location,” Cox said. “None were fatal, fortunately, but this has been something we’ve studied over the past five or six years.”
Cox added that the plan does not include a reduction in the speed limit along N.C. 41, which currently stand at 55 mph from N.C. 87 all the way to Lumberton. Instead, message boards will be used to alert motorists in the area — first of the four-way stop, then the roundabout.
For Bladen Community College President William Findt, the four-way stop is most concerning.
“Traffic along N.C. 41 is quite heavy, so I can understand the concerns,” Findt said. “I’m not sure the roundabout will have a big impact for us, but the stop signs will probably have a big impact — so we will have some discussions with our students about that.”
While the Bladen County Board of Commissioners approved the construction of a roundabout at that intersection earlier this year, Cox said the commissioners still have to OK the implementation of a four-way stop.
“The roundabout is probably 18 to 24 months off,” Cox added, “but the four-way stop would happen very quickly after the county approves it.”
Cox said the use of roundabouts are becoming more common in the state — such as the ones in Lumberton and Whiteville — and that they have cut down drastically on the accidents at those locations.
“Roundabouts are a great way to keep traffic moving in a controlled manner,” he said. “This kind of spot safety project is proving to be very successful.”
But Hester continues to look at the project with a jaundiced eye.
“We plan to divert our traffic from the school to the south on 410 as much as we can, but coming to the school will still affect the students,” she said. “I don’t want even one student hurt — or worse — because of that four-way stop or roundabout. I care about all of these kids as if they were my own.”
Hester said she plans to talk with N.C. Rep. William Brisson of Dublin and the county commissioners in an effort to convince them not to approve the four-way stop — and perhaps even nix the roundabout plan.
However, should both plans go forward and become reality, West Bladen High driver education instructor Jeff Atkinson is working with the young driving hopefuls to get them prepared.
“I usually have been carrying student drivers to Whiteville to practice roundabout intersections there — and also they just recently put one there in Lumberton on Elizabehttown Road and Water Street along with West Sixth Street and I carry them through there also,” he said. “I am sure that once it is constructed, we will be using it also for driver training along with the other two places.”
Cox said there is generally a slight increase in the number of traffic accidents after a four-way stop and roundabout are implemented, but that soon after the accident rates have shown a 68-percent reduction — including a 75-percent drop in head-on crashes and 77-percent reduction in injuries overall.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.