CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson A motorist correctly moves to the left of a new median on North Prince Street Tuesday evening only to be blocked head-on by a northbound vehicle that has incorrectly entered the lane. The motorist eventually wove through oncoming traffic to enter the parking lot of Chili’s Grill and Bar.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
At the peak of evening rush hour Tuesday, cars slowed to a crawl alongside the new and brightly painted yellow concrete barrier in the middle of North Prince Street with drivers staring at entrances across the road, trying to figure out how to get to them.
One southbound driver went left of the median, traveling the correct direction only to be blocked by a northbound motorist in the lane until the driver was able to weave through traffic to make the left turn-in to Chili’s Bar and Grill.
Others sped up and proceeded on to the next entrances, then circled back through the backs of parking lots. And, others waited until they were clear of the median, then whipped a U-turn in the road and doubled back to the entrance of Texas Street.
It’s a scene Adrian White knows too well.
The owner of Papa Murphy’s Pizza on Texas Avenue said he sat in a parking lot one evening for nearly an hour and, “Saw people doing all kinds of creative things to get around that thing.”
The city installed a concrete median March 22, creating a barrier in the center lane.
The median is designed to block cross traffic coming from shopping centers on the east and west sides of Prince. It’s also designed to prevent north and southbound traffic from making left turns onto Texas Street and into the shopping center housing Chili’s, Dollar Tree and several other stores.
“It’s going to take time for people to adjust,” said City Engineer Justin Howalt.
Howalt said police have been focusing extra traffic enforcement since the installation to help reinforce the change.
Howalt said the intent is to correct a long-standing issue with congestion and the flow of traffic on the north leg of Prince, which serves as an artery to retail centers as well as through traffic.
The city posted “no left turn” signs at the entrances to the shopping centers, but they were ignored, Howalt said.
So the median is a physical barrier to force the flow of traffic in a manner that signs weren’t able to accomplish.
“The major issue is that the intersections do not line up so you have a lot of head-on (traffic flow) conflicts,” he said, explaining it was not an issue of crashes.
The median — which cost $2,000, compared to a starting price of $80,000 for a traffic light — has been in the planning and discussion phase for some time, Howalt said.
He said the plan was presented to both the city’s traffic and public works committees and had the blessing of the state’s transportation department.
Wal-Mart was notified of the pending installation, however Howalt said other businesses were not.
“We felt it in the best interest of the traveling public to have it in there,” he said. “There’s still plenty of entry points into those businesses.”
White said his business has dropped approximately 20 percent in the week since the median was installed and businesses in his shopping center on Texas Street are circulating a petition to have it removed.
“It’s huge — They don’t understand we depend on traffic. The primary reason why we selected that location was traffic,” White said. “That thing is absolutely an albatross … it’s counter productive, it’s really counterproductive … just remove it.”
And White is not alone.
Customers are complaining and steering away said Beth Durland, manager of a hair salon in the shopping center.
“It’s become just an overall nuisance out there … our customers are very unhappy about it,” she said. “There’s a better way to address a problem in a turning lane… Anybody that’s spending the kind of money on the rent that we’re spending would be upset.”
Insurance agent Marina Lopez said she has watched police pull over numerous motorists in her parking lot since the median was installed and has seen the confusion motorists have about navigating it.
“We don’t like it. We want them to remove it. It’s slowed down business a lot,” she said.
But other businesses are going on as normal.
Nick Ferguson, who manages a children’s dentist office in the shopping center on Texas Street said, “it’s a hassle,” but he can’t complain because appointments are still booked solid a month in advance.
Howalt said the measure on north Prince is one of several needed in the community as the city implements a plan designed to better manage access points on major thoroughfares.