Improvements to a curve on N.C. 89 with a deadly legacy are now under way, according to state highway officials, who say a downside to the project will be delays and detours for motorists.
Still, the view of a Surry County public safety official is that the temporary hassles to travelers will be more than offset by the safer situation resulting.
“I think there will be a decrease in the amount of accidents,” said John Shelton, county emergency services director.
The $1.6 million project is targeting Snowbird Curve, located west of Mount Airy on N.C. 89 between Lowgap and the Virginia state line.
That curve has been the site of numerous accidents over the years, some involving fatalities.
Just for a five-year span from Dec. 1, 2004 to Nov. 30, 2009 — the latest period for which DOT statistics are available — there were 20 total crashes at that site reflecting three identified crash patterns. This included 13 accidents involving drivers running off the road, four sideswipe crashes and two head-on collisions.
Two fatalities occurred during the time frame covered by the accident figures.
“One of the problems up there is the width of the roadway, and the visibility has been a huge issue,” Shelton said. “It’s such a blind-spot area, you have no idea what is coming from the other side.”
The high accident rate has been a special concern for large trucks attempting to navigate the tighter stretch along the mountainous road because of the narrowness and sight limitations.
Another issue has surrounded rocks and dirt banks along the roadside, Shelton said, with mudslides sometimes occurring during bad weather. “The ledge is just right on the roadway,” the county emergency official said.
The quarter-mile curve is being realigned to improve safety, according to Jerry Higgins of the N.C. Department of Transportation, who announced on Thursday that the project is now under way.
“I think it will reduce the severity of accidents for sure,” Shelton said of the project.
Alerts To Motorists
The $1.6 million contract for the realignment project was awarded to DLB Inc. of Hillsville, Va., in August, and it is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 28, 2014.
During that time, a number of traffic patterns will be in place to accommodate travelers and reduce inconvenience as much as possible.
The affected portion of N.C. 89 will be reduced to one lane for most of the project, so motorists should be prepared for some delays depending on the traffic volume.
Traffic will be maintained with the use of flaggers and a pilot vehicle that will lead motorists through the work zone between the flagging stations. Temporary traffic signals might be used at a later date if needed.
During the project, it will be necessary to close the road for up to 30 minutes at times, the DOT further advises. Should N.C. 89 need to be closed for 30 minutes or longer, then a 40-mile detour route around the project will be utilized.
Heading west from Lowgap, motorists would travel east on N.C. 89 to Interstate 77-North into Virginia. They would take Exit 14 onto U.S. 221/58 toward Galax, Va., then head south on Virginia 89 into North Carolina. Southbound traffic would reverse those directions.
A changeable message sign has been placed at the N.C. 89/Interstate 77 interchange and near Galax. The signs will bear the message “NC 89 OPEN,” unless the road is closed and the detour route is implemented.
The traffic volume on a main route linking Galax to Mount Airy could be an aggravating factor during the construction, Shelton said.
“Oh my gosh, it has a huge amount of traffic from Galax to the Mount Airy area,” including those who use the road to reach jobs or have business interests in either of the two communities, he said.
“It is an extremely heavily traveled road.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.