Waynesville searching for Russ Avenue fix

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Increasing congestion coupled with pressure from candidates in the upcoming election is forcing the town of Waynesville to confront growing traffic problems along Russ Avenue.

A mix of old problems and new ones created by the town’s land-use plan are combining to exacerbate traffic issues along Waynesville’s busiest thoroughfare, according to Town Planner Paul Benson.

“We’re sort of in limbo right now between having regulations come in to play and making things better. We’re having old problems and new problems — it’s kind of tough right now,” Benson said.

Russ Avenue was already growing congested before the implementation of the town’s land-use plan in 2003 simply because a greater number of vehicles are traveling through the area. However, the land-use plan dictated that all new businesses have only right turn entrances and exits to discourage left turns across lanes of oncoming traffic. A median was built in the middle of Russ Avenue in front of McDonald’s earlier this year.


Back-ups are safer

The median has been the subject of complaint since its construction, and has been partly blamed for adding to the traffic buildups on Russ Avenue.

When it was built, the median shortened the turn lane at the Barber Boulevard traffic light into Ingles, creating a backup in the lane where cars go straight through that light. However, the median’s safety benefits far outweigh any negative impact it might have on traffic flow, according to statistics compiled by the Waynesville Police Department.

Statistics shared by Chief Bill Hollingsed show that from January to June 30, 2006, 25 accidents occurred between Barber Boulevard and Frazer Street where cars turn left into McDonald’s. In contrast, only seven accidents occurred during the same time period in 2007.

“There is a new traffic pattern, and it did create a congestion issue at the turn lane on Barber Boulevard,” said Hollingsed. “But ... the decision was based on safety.”

Town Engineer Fred Baker said that some of the traffic buildup can also be attributed to a traffic signal timing change that was added to usher people in and out of Ingles and CVS.

“The need to add an additional signal phase ... has tilted (the light) more towards getting people in and out of Ingles and CVS, so as a result it has taken away some of the green interval to move up and down Russ Avenue,” Baker said.

Another problem is the fact that the street was never intended to be a five-lane thoroughfare, Baker said. Russ Avenue was originally built as a four-lane road, but was made five lanes when a center turning lane was added. Baker would ideally like to see the road widened as properties like the Shell Station and Long John Silver’s are redeveloped, thereby providing more room in each lane. Baker admits, though, that this will be a long process.

“Not everybody redevelops at the same time,” said Baker.

As the center turn lane becomes obsolete, the Department of Transportation, which has authority over road projects on Russ Avenue, will look for more situations to place additional medians, according to DOT Division Engineer Jonathan Woodard.

But with more medians and fewer opportunities to turn left, the town may want to examine implementing designated spots for U-turns — something they have yet to discuss.

“Our land-use plan is sort of predicated on having places you can do U-turns. I haven’t really thought about it,” Benson said. Benson could not say for sure whether U-turns are currently legal everywhere along Russ Avenue.


Waiting for a plan

Baker admits the town is “behind on our transportation planning,” and that “we’d like to do something about the congestion,” on Russ Avenue.

The means to do something, though, is already in the town’s possession — and has been for quite a while. Specifically, the town has had a $40,000 grant for almost two years earmarked for a corridor study on Russ Avenue, according to Benson. The town only has to get a consultant on board in order to begin the study.

Holding up the process, though, is the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which has been reviewing the town’s proposal for a study. The MPO is a transportation planning agency serving Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties. The agency works cooperatively with DOT to plan improvements to the transportation system in the area.

The town has been “waiting quite a while” for feedback from the MPO, Benson said.

The opinion of the MPO is not a necessary factor to begin sending the proposal out to various consulting firms. Benson said the town may go ahead and send out a draft of their proposal to consultants.

“It looks like Russ Avenue is becoming more of a priority (and) a thing of interest,” he said.

However, Benson questioned whether the original intent of the corridor study — which is currently focused on landscaping and improvements to sidewalks, bike lanes and other modes of transportation on Russ Avenue — might need to be shifted.

“We might want to shift the focus more toward signalization, places for U-turns, traffic flow, things like that ... (which was) not really the intent of the original idea,” Benson said.


Traffic as election issue

Candidates in this year’s town elections have voiced multiple complaints about the situation on Russ Avenue.

Though all incumbents running for re-election, with the exception of Gary Caldwell, failed to say anything negative about the thoroughfare, other candidates had plenty of grievances.

Alderman candidates Russell McLean and Dick Young, along with mayoral candidate Hugh Phillips, expressed dissatisfaction with the planned center median and the town’s mandate for right turns only in and out of businesses along Russ Avenue.

McLean went so far as to say he feels the ordinance is going to cause severe traffic problems and hurt businesses along the thoroughfare. Young said he thinks “there could be a better way.” Phillips harbors major concerns about the congestion along Russ Avenue, and wants the town to altogether scrap the proposed median and the mandate for all right turns.

Alderman candidate LeRoy Roberson expressed his concern about the number of accidents along the thoroughfare.

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