Improvements on deck for busy Cary intersection

akenney@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

A bicyclist waits to cross the intersection of High House Road and Cary Parkway, which is targeted for $4 million of improvements to handle its increasing traffic volumes.

ANDREW KENNEY — akenney@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Three years ago, a plan to upgrade the intersection of Cary Parkway and High House Road caused as big an uproar as any piece of traffic engineering could.

Hundreds of comments poured in as the town aired designs for an unusual left-turn-less design at the busy intersection.

Now new blueprints have emerged for the crossroads and its signature clock tower. The town hasn’t set a cost estimate for the project, but the federal government has committed to cover 80 percent of the first $3.7 million spent.

Under the planned widening, each of the four approaches to the intersection will have two left-turn lanes instead of the current one, and each will keep a dedicated right-hand turn.

The previous plan, vetoed by the Cary Town Council in 2010, would have eliminated left turns at the intersection, instead routing drivers onto an access road.

“The new plan we’ve signed off on, this traditional widening, is actually going to be able to keep the aesthetics of the intersection and keep it easier to use and less congested,” said Councilwoman Gale Adcock.

The project will preserve the brick-faced clock tower and brick pavilion that mark Preston Corners. Some sidewalks, shrubs and trees will be removed and replaced, and the town may eventually add a bus stop near the intersection.

The intersection took its current form about 20 years ago, and since then has been clogged by western Cary’s development.

“I don’t think anybody foresaw the explosion in Cary’s growth. I think there may have been this idea that intersections would need widening … but who knew that so much growth was going to extend beyond Preston and out to (N.C.) 55?”

A February 2009 report found the intersection to offer a “poor” level of service, with many drivers facing average delays well over a minute and lines of cars stretching more than 1,000 feet along Cary Parkway during the morning rush.

A study found that the controversial plan would be far more effective than the traditional widening in reducing travel times, in some cases reducing total delays by 60 percent compared to the addition of more left-turn lanes.

Unhappy residents, however, shot that idea down.

The new, more-traditional plan should reduce delays by about half compared to the “do nothing” scenario, according to town engineer David Spencer. A recent study found the widening to be about as effective as more-complicated designs that featured roundabouts.

Samuel Darden and Marquell Johnson often cross High House Road on foot on their way to work at the nearby McDonald’s.

“It’s a heavy flow,” Johnson said, but he doesn’t find it problematic.

Adcock agrees. She said the intersection hasn’t reached a crisis point, but would without intervention

Construction on the improvements is expected to begin in 2015 and conclude by fall of 2016. The town may seek help from developers in order to pay for aesthetic touches, according to engineering director Tim Bailey.

The town currently is seeking firms for the planning and design of the project. Down the road, staff will present detailed designs of the new layout, landscaping and hardscaping for public review.

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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