The King City Council has unanimously agreed to close the West School Street railroad crossing as part of an effort to improve traffic conditions at the intersection of Old Hwy. 52 and Goff Road.
The city has been working with the county school board and the North Carolina Department of Transportation for several years to try to relocate the railroad crossing at Goff Road in order to cut down on the number of accidents at that intersection, but in order to move the crossing the city must close an additional crossing.
City Manager Homer Dearmin said a series of traffic studies had been conducted at all of the crossings in the city, noting that the West School Street crossing had been identified as the crossing with the least traffic.
Prior to the vote to close the crossing, the council heard from a number of speakers during a public hearing.
School Board Chair Sonya Cox said the Goff Road intersection had a history of bad accidents, many involving young, inexperienced drivers from West Stokes High School.
“I contacted DOT and set up a meeting with law enforcement, school personnel, and people from the city and we brainstormed about what could be done,” she said. “It was a long arduous process and we looked at a lot of questions like why a stoplight was not warranted there. Finally we have this plan after many long years to close and relocate this crossing at Goff Road. It needs to happen and should have happened a long time ago.
“Our goal is to save lives,” she added. “Our least experienced drivers navigate that intersection many times a day. I don’t want us to look back in a few years and say ‘if we had moved that intersection someone would still be alive.’”
West Stokes High School Principal Kevin Spainhour concurred, noting that the intersection was confusing even for more experienced drivers.
“We can put up a caution light and lower the speed limit, but the way the intersection is set just does not bode well for the inexperienced driver,” he added. “Especially as they are trying to go straight across Old 52 and they have someone on Goff Road trying to turn left.”
North Carolina Department of Transportation Assistant District Engineer Steven Jones said his department had evaluated the intersection and determined that it did not warrant a stop light.
“The only solution that is reasonable is to relocate the crossing,” he said. “We have to operate by rules of the railroad. They were there first. They want a net reduction of crossings, so any moving of a crossing must be predicated by a net reduction.”
Jones said NCDOT had only drawn up a preliminary plan for where the relocated crossing would be constructed and said they would be open to suggestions from the council and the public.
“Tonight we are looking for concurrence from the city council that they would not mind the net closure,” he said. “At that point we could expend some more resources in including public involvement as to where the best location would be.”
Several council members questioned what the impact of closing the West School Road crossing would have on traffic in and out of King Elementary School.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Tony George said there were currently two buses using the crossing, but noted that those routes needed to be changed anyway because they are unsafe.
“After you make the decision it is really going to make it a better set up at King Elementary,” said George. “We can improve the parking lot and fix the exits and entrances coming out of that school. It is going to be a better situation.”
Dearmin said he was unsure exactly when the West School Street crossing would be closed.
“On Monday Council authorized the mayor and staff to execute a resolution concerning the council’s intent to close the crossing,” he said. “After DOT has that it will take at least 30 days to close the crossing. It could be closed as early as mid to late summer.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.