By Matt Harrelson
Some members of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation want officials to redirect heavy truck traffic away from downtown.
“We have a problem with trucks downtown,” said RDC member Neal Cadieu Tuesday during the group’s monthly meeting at the Extension Office at the Agricultural Services Center on Caroline Street. “There’s no reason for those trucks to come through downtown.”
Cadieu showed the group a map outlining the current path that 18-wheelers take when traveling U.S. Route 1, otherwise known as Fayetteville Road, through downtown Rockingham on Hancock Street to later meet up with U.S. Route 220 and U.S. 1 intersections. The routes, both north and south, are 1.6 miles from the Greene Street intersection to the U.S. 220 and U.S. 1 intersections.
“People have to move their cars on the side of the street so these trucks can make that swing around the corner,” said member Amber Marcengill, owner of Rocking Trends Consignment Boutique on East Washington Street.
The new path that Cadieu is proposing would instruct big rig drivers to take Greene Street until it intersects with U.S. 220, then south to the U.S. 1 intersection. This truck route would be 1.8 miles, or only .2 miles difference, with only three tenths of a mile not being four lane with 50 mile per hour speed limits. Greene Street is already marked for trucks using U.S. 1 to reach Broad Avenue or vice versa.
The group made and passed a motion to ask the North Carolina Department of Transportation to add signage at the Greene Street intersection to guide big truck operators to that route.
The other traffic topic discussed at the meeting was the need to no longer have one-way streets in downtown Rockingham if trucks can be deterred out of the downtown area.
Cadieu spoke of times in the early 1950s when Rockingham’s downtown streets were packed with shoppers from a large number of retail shops, service stations, grocery stores and two movie houses. Adding to the congestion at that time was considerable traffic on U.S. Routes 1, 74 and 220 all coming through downtown Rockingham.
“Traffic was a mess. It was almost the sole topic of Merchants Association meetings,” said Cadieu. “The situation didn’t escape the notice by the N.C. Department of Transportation.”
After consulting with engineers from DOT, the city agreed to a system of one-way streets, said Cadieu. After construction of some traffic islands and installation of new signs, the one-way street system officially came into effect at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 2, 1955.
“Times have changed,” he said. “Several stoplights have been taken down due to lack of need. The only service station left is Robert’s, and he doesn’t sell gasoline. There are no variety stores, no department stores and only one grocery store.”
Cadieu also said he doubted there was a person in the room who had not seen a driver going the wrong way in downtown Rockingham and doubts there is a person in the room who has almost give up in frustration in trying to provide destination driving directions to a stranger.
Due to decreasing traffic counts on U.S. 1, the proposed bypass is no longer in the current DOT Program of Consideration and has been delegated to another category. This means that action on the bypass will now be considered no earlier than 2018 and more likely in 2020, said Cadieu.
“We believe that a plan that was necessary 59 years ago has outlived its usefulness,” said Cadieu. “There is consensus to move forward with this.”
The Rockingham Downtown Corporation plans to present the argument at the next municipal meeting whether it be a Planning Board or City Council meeting.