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Calculated gamble Waynesville intersection takes leap of faith to make it across

fr intersectionIt’s a dreaded intersection for anyone who frequents downtown Waynesville behind the wheel. You slowly edge the nose of your car forward, inching past the stop sign and bit-by-bit into the oncoming lanes, straining forward in your seat in hopes of getting a clearer view — until finally, biting the bullet you bolt across.

With a little luck, it works out OK. But if your timing is even slightly off, or if cross traffic fails to slow down to make way, the junction of Haywood and Miller streets can be precarious, as two drivers found out a little more than a week ago when they collided in the intersection.

Looking over police reports from the last several years, the retailing of wrecks at the intersection of Haywood and Miller streets are all very similar.

A couple of drivers admitted to not giving each direction a proper look before proceeding into the intersection, but most said they did not see anyone coming despite using caution.

Luis Quevedo, who owns a Waynesville design firm, called the area “a hotspot” for wrecks.

Quevedo has spent the last several years documenting crashes at the intersection near his office. The crash last week was the fifth one at the intersection of Haywood and Miller streets this year — a cause for concern for Quevedo.

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“It is not a safe intersection,” Quevedo said.

In 2011, there were only two reported accidents — the same for 2010. But, six accidents were documented in 2009 and another five in 2008.

The biggest problem is visibility: when stopped at Miller Street, drivers don’t have a clear view of oncoming traffic. To one side, sight is blocked by a tall stonewall. To the other, there’s a large business sign.

Making matters worse, the intersection is on a hill and in a curve, so its difficult to see approaching cars until the last minute. Plus, many are going over the speed limit.

Quevedo has advocated for a change to the intersection and said he hopes something will change before the worst happens.

“I would hate to see somebody get killed there,” Quevedo said, adding that he would feel partly to blame if he did nothing to try to change the status quo.


Is there a solution?

After the crash last week, Waynesville leaders are seeing if there is anything the town can do to improve safety at the intersection.

“We will take a look at how we can make it safer,” said Town Manager Marcy Onieal.

Onieal said that the Haywood-Miller junction is definitely not the worst place for accidents. Most wrecks take place in the Walmart parking lot on South Main Street and along Russ Avenue, she said.

“I think there is a perception that there are more accidents there than there are,” Onieal said.

Mayor Gavin Brown agreed that the location probably seems more dangerous because it is in the middle of town, which is much more constricted then than Russ Avenue or South Main Street.

Brown said that the accidents are a side effect of the high volume of traffic that traverses Haywood Street each day.

“These are endemic problems when you have traffic,” Brown said.

The Waynesville police chief and the town’s public works director are starting to look into possible resolutions.

The town has investigated safety at the intersection before. But, after studying the intersection, it was determined that a traffic light would only cause more problems. Adding a light so close to two other lights on Haywood Street would create more congestion in that area, the town concluded.

In 2009, Quevedo sent a letter to Waynesville’s Board of Aldermen formally requesting a four-way stop that would force drivers on Haywood Street to slow down. But in the end, the town simply made the stop signs more prominent to ensure that vehicles on Miller Street knew that they were required to halt.

Today, Quevedo said he still feels a four-way stop is a viable option.

“I think it’s time to take it to the next step and take it to at least a four-way stop,” Quevedo said.

A four-way stop is one alternative that the town is looking into. However, Brown said he thought adding stop signs to Haywood Street would only create too much congestion along a main thoroughfare downtown. The town also needs to factor in the overall traffic flow through town, not just one area, he said.

“Anytime you have a problem like that you don’t want to over engineer it,” Brown said, which could cause more problems.

Brown suggested that people should simply avoid that intersection and use the parallel roads of either Depot or Church streets — both of which have stoplights at their intersections with Haywood. Brown admitted though that he sometimes travels up Miller Street, and only when he reaches the intersection does he question why he made that choice.

“I guess, it’s human nature to avoid traffic lights,” Brown said. And, “it’s sort of a direct route.”

However, it can also be the more hazardous way.

In addition to a four-way stop, the town will also look at prohibiting left turns onto Haywood Street since drivers’ sightlines are impeded looking in that direction, or it could decide that no action is the best action.

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