WEST JEFFERSON-What will the future hold for the intersection of U.S. 221 and N.C. 163?
At the moment, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is wrestling with that question.
The infamous “Malfunction Junction” has been the site of countless traffic accidents throughout the years, prompting the DOT to install new traffic lights and patterns to curb unnecessary collisions at the prominent intersection.
To exacerbate the situation, roadway engineers must now figure out how to reconcile traffic changes at the intersection with the approaching widening of U.S. 221.
Contrary to the plans for the intersection of U.S. 221 and U.S. 421, the West Jefferson interchange will not include any form of an overpass and the end result will likely be similar to the current form in place, said DOT Construction Engineer Trent Beaver.
“We’re talking of handling that (intersection) a little differently and being able to maintain traffic while we are doing it,” said Beaver. “We’ve also discussed accelerating the completion of that intersection as opposed to what is show in the plan.”
For starters, engineers may have to increase the elevation of the N.C. 163 side of the roadway. Motorists familiar with that road understand the limited sight distance on the approach to the intersection, which has undoubtedly caused several accidents.
Currently, the project is outlined to close the south side of N.C. 163 during construction and detour traffic thru Mt. Jefferson Road and back to U.S. 221.
Now, Beaver said the DOT is reevaluating those plans.
The widening project has already claimed several homes and businesses along the highway through eminent domain. Those property owners were then forced to take a state settlement and relocate elsewhere in the county. Fleetwood Fire Department is also on the chopping block, leaving fire officials scrambling to find a new home.
The DOT also recently announced the demolition of the former Fleetwood School building across from the fire department’s current location.
Fire officials are now discussing the possibility of relocating to the Fleetwood School site once the school is demolished and fill dirt is added to elevate the site, said Beaver.
Commuters approaching West Jefferson on U.S. 221 have likely noticed a sudden shift in the road’s traffic pattern near the N.C. 194 intersection and Westwood Elementary School. A steady stream of traffic cones and road signs have been aligned to alert motorists of the sudden change. The newly implemented traffic patter can be confusing to motorists unbeknownst to the change, as the road suddenly shifts and alternates between the existing highway and new lanes of traffic.
While Beaver said the DOT hasn’t received any complaints from the community on the sudden shift, he does agree that the change in traffic pattern can be a little bewildering.
“We have to phase it in,” said Beaver of the widening and the reason for the lane changes.
“One reason we switch back and forth like that is because we have to do a best fit alignment in order try to minimize impacts of humans on the environment the best we can,” said Beaver. “Sometimes the widening is done to one side versus the other. That’s why the road switches back and forth cause we are phasing in the widening.”
Once Beaver was told the Post had encountered comments and complaints from the community about the confusion that has resulted from the ongoing widening, he said would look into the matter further and consult with other engineers about possible solutions.
Overall, Beaver said the widening project is ahead of schedule.
“Everything is going well,” said Beaver. “All sections are on schedule, which is great. We’ve had good weather. Last fall was warm and dry. We had a mild winter. Contractors were able to work through most of winter. I think if folks just bear with us for two or three more years, they will see significant changes.”
The widening project is divided into five different section. Section A runs from the U.S. 421 intersection to Idlewild Road. Section runs from the end of Section A to just north of the New River. From there, Section C runs to the intersection of N.C. 194. Section D consists of the roadway between N.C. 194 and N.C. 163. Section E, which is scheduled to begin soon, runs from N.C. 163 to the four lane in Jefferson.
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.
The ongoing widening of U.S. 221 has caused some headaches for drivers in the Baldwin area.