N.C. DOT work on U.S. Highway 70 and the Pembroke Road offramp on Monday caused the worst traffic jam in Downtown New Bern in decades on Monday.

The roadwork included closing down the Pembroke offramp. The repaving and repair work being done on U.S. 70 has caused backed up traffic, but the offramp closure compounded the problem by an order of magnitude.

Some motorists had a great idea. Instead of slogging through backed up traffic on 70, they opted to take surface streets and go through the downtown. “Some” being defined as thousands.

The ensuing traffic all converged on the two-lane Cunningham Bridge, creating a funnel effect that magnified the problem.

Traffic was backed up for several miles on Broad Street, Neuse Boulevard, and Trent Boulevard. Many motorists took side streets through neighborhoods to avoid the jam.

Alderman Bobby Aster, during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, described the event as “unspeakable.”

He said it took one driver one hour and 12 minutes to get from Pollock Street to Cunningham Bridge three blocks away.

City officials said they were caught off guard by the situation and were not contacted by DOT in advance of the closure (cough-cough-there were electric signs all over the place days before-cough).

Aside from that, Aster wondered why the Police Department didn’t do more … or rather, didn’t do anything … to deal with the traffic jam.

“I’m just wondering the reason why our police department didn’t get out and start directing traffic and moving this traffic outside of our city.

He said one citizen stuck at an intersection for 18 minutes saw a police car drive up, turn around and leave.

“…If you think that it’s bad now, wait ’til the construction starts in James City. I hope our Police Department’s got a plan.”

N.C. DOT is getting ready to upgrade U.S. 70 through James City from a surface street with intersections, to a controlled access expressway (jargon for “freeway”) with frontage roads on either side. See video

Aster, a retired fire chief, wondered what would have happened if there was a major accident blocking access. He said the Police Department needs to develop an action plan.

“It’s going to happen again,” he said.

Oldtimers remember when U.S. 70 came through downtown. Traffic was so bad during summer months that downtown workers either left work early or waited until the evening to get home.

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