A plan called a “Road Diet” to reduce First Street from four to two lanes with a center turn lane was postponed on Tuesday by the two rookie aldermen in whose district the project is located.
The subject will come up again at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting.
Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster said he knew little about the project but was getting feedback from his constituents who were expressing reservations.
The project, a team effort by the City of New Bern and N.C. Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the street, would cost about $1 million, of which the city would be responsible for $260,000, using a combination of city funds and grants.
In addition to reducing the lanes, it would resurface the street, and add bike paths and sidewalks on both sides. The newly configured street would stretch from Neuse Boulevard/Broad Street to Pembroke Avenue in the Pembroke community.
The city’s primary responsibility would be to maintain the sidewalks and relocate any utilities necessary to make way for the project.
Said Aster, “I would like to postpone it until the Jan. 23 meeting to learn more about it and find out about it from the constituents.”
A delay in any decision of two weeks would not have an impact on the project, which still needs state approval. A state-level meeting is scheduled for early February and the First Street Road Diet is on the agenda.
But if aldermen were to reject the plan or postpone any decision once again, that would delay the project.
Speaking during the public petitions portion of the aldermen meeting Tuesday, Tom Braaten, a retired Marine major general and retired Coastal Carolina Regional Airport director, expressed concerns about the Road Diet plan.
He said First Street can get congested at times, particularly with events at Lawson Creek, Twin Rivers YMCA, or Temple Baptist Church. Two right turn lanes at the U.S. 70 offramp would have to merge into one lane. A sharp curve in the street limits visibility. First Street is the main alternate street should the bridge be out of operation. And finally, aldermen who were not part of the plan are being asked to approve it, Braaten said.
Like Aster, Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she would like to get more feedback from citizens before making a decision.
The Road Diet project has been discussed for most of a year after being pitched by N.C. DOT officials. An undivided four-lane surface street is considered unsafe due to confestion, turns and intersections, and a Road Diet would address those concerns as well as beautify a major entry into the downtown.
The reduced lane count could accommodate up to 20,000 trips along First Street per day, City Manager Mark Stephens said. First Street handles between 6,000 and 8,000 trips per day now.
The addition of bike lanes and sidewalks would make it easier and safer for low-income residents to get about, Stephens said.
“If it doesn’t work, all you’re dealing is is restriping, which is maybe $15,000 or $20,000,” Stephens said.