Could traffic eclipse solar event?

This story was written by Haley Smith, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

Jackson County Emergency Management wants additional information from transportation officials on possible traffic congestion for Aug. 21 – the day of the total solar eclipse.

County officials met Monday to review an initial N.C. Department of Transportation study. It compared current traffic volumes with projected traffic volumes at these five main intersections:

  • U.S. 23-441 at U.S. 23 Business in Dillsboro.
  • Mill Street at Grindstaff Cove Road in Sylva.
  • N.C. 107 at U.S. 23 Business in Sylva.
  • N.C. 107 at Cullowhee Mountain Road in Cullowhee.
  • N.C. 107 at U.S. 64 in Cashiers.

Of those intersections analyzed, three demonstrated potential for “failing operations,” according to the NCDOT.

The intersection at U.S. 23-441 and U.S. 23 Business could experience problems if visitors triple the county’s usual population on the day of the event. The average speed per vehicle could decrease from 20 miles per hour to 11 mph, and it could take about a minute-and-a-half longer to travel through the intersection.

“If we double the visitors, it doesn’t increase much, but if we triple the visitors it could more than double the travel time,” said Michael Reese, an NCDOT congestion management regional engineer.

Otherwise, this intersection is expected to run smoothly, he said.

The intersection at N.C. 107 and U.S. 23 Business has the most potential for congestion, officials said.

If visitors triple the county’s population, the average speed per vehicle could decrease from 20 mph to 8 mph and it could take about nine minutes to travel through the intersection.

The current analysis does not include traffic from Sunrise Park. County officials discussed making traffic enter and exit Sunrise Park through right turns only to limit the amount of traffic crossing N.C. 107. Traffic will be able to turn onto Cherry Street instead.

Another proposal is to reserve the left lane on U.S. 23 Business for traffic coming from downtown Sylva and the right lane for traffic coming from N.C. 107.

“This will be our traffic problem, period,” said Chad Franklin, deputy division traffic engineer with NCDOT Division 14. “Whatever we can do here, if anything, would be very beneficial.”

At the intersection of Cullowhee Mountain Road and N.C. 107, there may be some congestion if the county’s population is tripled. The average speed is predicted to decrease from 33 mph to 16 mph, and it will take about two minutes to travel through the intersection.

The analysis of these initial five intersections does not account for traffic from other events such as Western Carolina University’s move-in weekend or first day of classes.

The new analysis will include most of the intersections in downtown Sylva. It will be completed in May, officials said.