Last week, road crews began tearing up a median that keeps drivers from making careening left turns in and out of McDonald’s.
Median foes — those who like the adrenaline rush of do-or-die, pedal-to-the-metal turns across lanes of oncoming traffic during the Russ rush hour — got their hopes up that the median was perhaps deemed a failed experiment.
But by week’s end, a new median began to emerge in place of the old one — only bigger.
The median was put in several years ago in response to accidents caused by left-turners. A record 25 accidents happened in front of McDonald’s during a six-month period in 2006, prompting the median.
But it created a new problem: the median ate up part of the turn lane where cars queue up at the stop light waiting to get into Ingles.
“The left-turning traffic would fill up available space in the turn lane, and back up into the thru lane of traffic in Russ Avenue,” said Jonathan Woodard, district engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation. “There was only about 160 feet or so of left-turn storage before you ran into the island.”
The median shortened the turn lane into Ingles, leaving room for only eight to 10 cars. During busy times, a line of cars would overflow into the regular travel lane, causing congestion, Woodard explained.
The new median is more like a narrow, elevated curb than a traditional median. The slim footprint allows the median to co-exist with the left-turn lane into Ingles rather than consume it — allowing for twice as many cars to queue up while waiting to turn left into Ingles, Woodard said.
“That additional storage was really warranted there,” he said.
There will also be more room for cars waiting to turn left onto Frazier Street, the road that runs between the Shell gas station and Sagebrush.
Eventually, there will be a new stop light at the intersection with Frazier Street. The intersection will be aligned with a new, secondary entrance road into the Ingles compound, which will run alongside a new Chick-Fil-A flanking Russ Avenue and a new Ingles gas station being built behind HomeTrust Bank.
There’s still a missing piece of the puzzle, however, that keeps the median from functioning perfectly. The median stymies drivers from getting to businesses on the opposite side of the street without doing a U-turn and doubling back — but there’s no designated spot for those U-turns.
For now, the Shell gas station serves as a defacto turning zone. Once drivers clear the median, they make wheeling left turns into the Shell station to loop around.
A long-range plan is in the works to redesign all of Russ Avenue with a median, doing away with the middle left-turn lane everywhere, and providing designated U-turn points, but that plan is several years away from reality.
Coming next week
A major redesign of Russ Avenue is in the works that will dramatically transform the commercial thoroughfare into a boulevard-style road. Read about what’s at stake and the decision points surrounding the redesign in next week’s issue.