The new plan for widening Carolina Forest Boulevard includes more than a second walking path.
Along with approving an additional eight-foot-wide multipurpose path for the boulevard this week, county officials also signed off on four more traffic signals for the road.
“As part of the pedestrian improvements, we have to have a safe way for people to cross [the boulevard],” said David Schwerd, the county’s director of planning and zoning, during a presentation to the Carolina Forest Civic Association Wednesday night.
The boulevard construction, which began last year, will expand the two-lane portion of the road to four lanes from Gateway Drive to River Oaks Drive.
Schwerd said when the road’s original design was revealed, many residents questioned how they would turn left out of their subdivisions onto the busy boulevard without a traffic signal.
“What we’re going to do is slow them down,” he said.
The road’s initial design called for adding traffic signals near Southgate and at Farmers Rest Drive. The latest plan still includes those two, as well as four other signals and pedestrian crosswalks: at Avalon, at Plantation Lakes and at both Stafford Drives. The Stafford Drive intersection near the Carolina Forest Recreation Center will be aligned so travelers can cross the boulevard from the rec center to a proposed shopping center on the western side of the road.
Schwerd said the first boulevard plan didn’t include more signals because those intersections did not meet the national traffic standards for them. However, the early design also included just a single 10-foot-wide multipurpose path on the western side of the road. When county officials chose to build eight-foot paths on each side of the boulevard, Schwerd said those projections added pedestrian traffic and that triggered the need for additional signals. He also said community input played a role in the county’s decision.
“The signals will allow people to safely cross," he said. "It will allow more breaks in traffic for people to make a left [turn] out of their neighborhoods. And it will slow speeds down.”
He stressed that the timing of the signals will be adjusted so traffic flows along the boulevard with only occasional breaks to allow cars leaving subdivisions to turn left onto the main road.
One question county officials have not answered yet is how much the new signals and a second walking path will cost.
The road construction is being paid for with money from RIDE III, the county’s nearly $600 million road-building program funded by a 1% countywide sales tax. The boulevard widening is the No. 3 project on the list.
One multipurpose path for the boulevard was included in the program voters approved in 2016. A second path was not.
But county officials said they will save money by reducing the size of the paths to eight feet in width. And while the boulevard widening was initially expected to require $54.7 million, officials have said the project should come in under budget by more than $15 million.
Even with the new signals and a second path, Schwerd said construction should still be under budget.
The widening work and the path on the western side of the road are expected to be finished by June 2021, which is in line with the original project schedule.
A timeline for the second path is still being developed, but Schwerd said that will not affect when drivers will be able to use all four lanes of the widened boulevard.
“The road being open is priority one,” he said.
Schwerd’s announcement about the new traffic signals was met with applause Wednesday night.
Alex Best, who has lived in Avalon for 15 years, is pleased with the change. He had been worried about his development not having a traffic signal.
“That’s fantastic news,” he said. “I probably couldn’t be any more satisfied with the decision. … They listened to our concerns in the community.”