Guest Column

Jim Tynen: At the intersection of Useless and Spending

January 24, 2014 

The headline in The Cary News sent a shiver of fear through my heart.

Was it “Stock market crashes”? “War declared”?

No: “Five Cary intersections set for upgrade improvements.”

My wife or I drive or walk through a couple of those intersections almost daily, and the others at least once a week. I dread the thought of seeing construction machinery and workers at those spots.

That’s because I remember how construction of two roundabouts on Chatham Street caused me so many commuting headaches that I changed my route to work. Eventually I got into the habit of avoiding the afflicted streets.

Assuming others felt the same, that couldn’t have been a boon to businesses there.

Moreover, I can’t see how the roundabouts were worth the hassle. If anything, the traffic circles seem annoying, silly and even dangerous.

I’m afraid the new projects will just be a rerun of that traffic nightmare. More important, I have lost confidence local government will act prudently.

For example, I look at the plans for the intersection closest to my house: High House Road and NW Maynard Road. Benefits seemed marginal at best.

Sure, I’d like six lanes of traffic there, with a traffic cop on duty and under instructions to make sure I can drive right through. But I don’t think my fellow drivers would approve – especially if they had to pay for it.

The five proposals, of course, aren’t that dramatic. It’s hard to see, however, how they will create significant improvements.

The plans include adding a right-turn lane, a more grandiose traffic light and a high-visibility crosswalk, plus moving pedestrian crossing buttons closer to the pavement.

First, right turns are tricky on all four approaches no matter what is done. Traffic roars up slopes on all four directions, so it’s hard to see who is coming.

With every turn, I dread seeing a car zooming up from a dip in the road straight for me.

As for pedestrian improvements, the right-turn lane would only put the refuge of the shoulder a few steps farther away, and every step counts when you’re on foot there. The walkway and crossing buttons might also be of little help with the vehicles racing past.

As a pedestrian, your best bet is that your adrenaline kicks in as you sprint across the road.

The current traffic lights are visible from blocks away from most directions. A more prominent signal won’t help with today’s biggest road menace: the driver texting while he talks on his Bluetooth and watches “Justified” on his iPad.

In short, I wonder whether this or other changes are needed. Note that I said needed, not desired.

For I also wonder if the stewards of our local tax dollars are absolutely mindful that the money they spend is yanked out of our pockets, and most of us need every dollar.

The $16,000 Cary Town Council and staff retreat is just the latest example of money being taken from you and me and being spent on things that won’t directly benefit us and our fellow residents.

Finally, even if the money can be scrounged up now, the economy could face speed bumps ahead. The Great Recession has taught us that.

What if someday the town discovers a real need? Then the money already spent on the five intersection projects might be badly needed.

Maybe council members and their staff could think about whether this and other projects are really needed, not merely wanted. Then they should think about whether they’d spend this money if it was theirs and they needed it to pay the mortgage or buy groceries.

Some thought along those lines should compel our public servants to put the brakes on spending, and that includes tinkering with these five intersections.

Jim Tynen is a Cary resident who works as communications director for the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.

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