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The North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners discussed restricting through traffic on Finley Avenue as a means of discouraging tractor trailers and other large trucks from using the road as a shortcut between N.C. 18 and D Street (Business U.S. 421).

After gaining consensus approval from the board, Town Manager Wilson Hooper said staff time would be spent putting together a draft tractor trailer traffic reduction ordinance. “We’ll bring it to you in the coming months to consider.”

Hooper said the town could enact such an ordinance but the tradeoffs would be increased strain on law enforcement resources, more congestion on Second Street and infrastructure investments such as signage.

The discussion was sparked on Oct. 6 by public comments made by Caprice Cheek, who lives on Eighth Street and worked for the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) for over 30 years.

“Traffic counts in 2013 and more recently show that traffic on Eighth Street must be reduced to those with a purpose or need to be there,” said Cheek. “Through traffic needs to be eliminated. Delivery trucks, tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles are using it as a shortcut around downtown.”

Cheek said it is “sensible and reasonable to look seriously at prohibiting trucks” from turning on Finley Avenue and using one of its tributaries through densely populated neighborhoods to access D Street. She also said the latest traffic count indicated that over half of vehicles exceed the 25 miles per hour speed limit on Sixth and other residential streets.

“Folks think those streets are shortcuts and that’s simply not the case—time tests have been done from 18 North to D Street, and every time Second Street was faster (than Finley Avenue. Law enforcement and more aggressive traffic control measures have to go hand in hand if we are able to be successful in addressing these issues.”

Cheek added that Second Street is an assigned truck route, so “prohibiting trucks in the neighborhoods is a no-brainer.”

Commissioner Debbie Ferguson commented, “Second Street is so overloaded and DOT has known that since 2017. D Street is also overloaded with just two lanes getting people in and out of town. So, the traffic just gets hung up and people cannot get through. Ultimately a bypass around town is the answer. In the meantime we can do some of these less costly improvements to drive traffic out.”

The town started its latest two-week traffic study on Oct. 7, reducing the width of Sixth Street between F and G streets from 13 to 10 feet using traffic barrels. The town also plans to post “dynamic speed signs” on Eighth Street/Toll Road in coming weeks to display speeds of oncoming vehicles and also record traffic volume and speed data.

The measures are designed to gauge the effectiveness of traffic calming measures on motorists and help officials make informed and cost-effective decisions about public safety and infrastructure improvements.

“I’m hoping the data we collect will help us solve some of these problems with physical reconfigurations of some downtown streets,” said Hooper.

Hooper said that speed bumps might be an option on Eighth Street but added, “I feel a little nervous about putting speed bumps on Sixth, Trogdon, Ninth and 10th streets because of the grades—the speed bump would become a ramp.”

Unpaid water bills

The commissioners approved updates to the town’s utility/customer service policy that includes the terms of the state-mandated “reasonable pay plans” before the town can resume cutoffs and penalties for non-paying water customers.

North Carolina instituted a moratorium on water service cutoffs for non-paying customers in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The state moratorium ended on July 29 and the town’s moratorium ended on Oct. 4.

The town has accrued more than $16,000 in unpaid past-due water bills during the pandemic, the town’s director of finance, Connie Bauguess, said recently.

Personnel policy and COVID-19

The board approved updates to the town’s personnel policy that address special circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy now provides unlimited hours of emergency paid sick leave to town employees who have been exposed to COVID-19. It also extends emergency paid sick leave and emergency Family and Medical Leave Act protections to public safety employees, who can be excluded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to Hooper.

Other matters

Also on Oct. 6, the commissioners:

• authorized Public Works Director Dale Shumate to grant three easements along Marketplace Alley to Duke Energy;

• approved a resolution declared a 2006 Sterling sanitation truck, a truck bed, and certain old computers, cell phones, printers and other small electronics as surplus and authorizing their disposal by Hooper; and

• approved a resolution establishing the citizen-led North Wilkesboro Cemetery Committee, which will consist of five at-large members appointed by the board to five-year terms. At least three spots may be filled by town residents and up to two seats filled by non-residents. The town’s public works director will be the designated sexton/caretaker.

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