For the second time in about three years, a major change is in store for a well-traveled street in downtown Mount Airy.
The new configuration, scheduled to go into effect Tuesday, involves the intersection of Willow and Virginia streets near the old Spencer’s textile plant. A four-way stop sign format is now in place there, which was implemented in early September 2008 to replace traffic signals that had been at the intersection for years.
Under the change, Willow will become a through-street, meaning that motorists headed either north or south on that route will not have to stop at the intersection as they have been. Meanwhile, those approaching from either direction on Virginia Street will be required to come to a complete stop as they have been and yield to any traffic on Willow Street.
The pattern is being altered for safety reasons, according to Lt. Jim Armbrister of the Mount Airy police Community Services Division.
“We have done surveys of that area (and found) people not stopping properly at the stop sign,” Armbrister explained, adding that violations have been noted among drivers on both Willow and Virginia streets.
After monitoring the traffic tendencies at the intersection and studying possible solutions, eliminating the stop signs on Willow Street was determined to “be the best course of action,” he said, one which should provide a smoother situation.
“It will enhance the safety of the vehicle and pedestrian flow through there.” Pedestrian traffic has increased there in recent years with the presence of the Renfro Lofts condominiums.
The change at the intersection will include the northbound portion of Willow Street being reduced to one lane, with an existing right-turn lane just to the south of Virginia Street eliminated and yellow hash marks painted on the roadway. The painting and other physical alterations, including blacking out the turn markers, will occur Monday — weather permitting — allowing the new traffic pattern to go into effect Tuesday.
Although four-way stop signs have been used successfully at several intersections in the city, the Willow-Virginia location was a rare case of that configuration not working, complicated by sight-distance and other factors. “Willow is basically set up to be a through-street,” Armbrister said.
“It’ll make it safer all around for everybody,” he added of the new traffic pattern.
The stoplight system that was in place before the four-way stop signs was suitable whenever the Spencer’s and Renfro textile plants were in operation, Armbrister said. “With the business in that area not being what it used to be (when) manufacturing plants were letting out at different times of the day,” the traffic signals no longer were needed, he said.
With police realizing that the latest change might take some getting used to on the part of drivers and pedestrians, Armbrister offered a simple rule of thumb:
“As always, regardless of regulatory signs and right-of-way laws, on all roadways, always proceed with due caution while driving defensively.”
Contact Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.