The small stretch of Midland Road from U.S. 1 to the Mid Pines and Pine Needles golf resorts is not among the more heavily traveled stretches of southern Moore County. Yet the two-month summer closure — and subsequent recent reopening — of that segment with a new traffic circle and raised medians is a significant change for motorists.

If you’re not paying attention, you’re liable to either find yourself shifting lanes at the last minute or going around the circle twice. And the new medians at the U.S. 1 entry and exit points take a little getting used to.

Now, imagine two years of road construction — and radical alterations — and overlay it on U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 through Southern Pines and Aberdeen, which is the heaviest traveled part of Moore County.

In just several months, the Department of Transportation was set to begin this very work. But an unrelated budget crunch has forced the department to delay work across the state. With some guidance from local elected leaders, the DOT has agreed to put off this massive reimagining of U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 for five years, until we are well clear of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2022 and the U.S. Open in 2024.

Phew.

An Untested Concept

Everyone acknowledges that U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501 serve a ton of traffic — and not very well. The middle turn lane, known as a “suicide lane” for what it feels like when you pull in to make a left turn, is growing more dangerous by the day.

The DOT’s solution has been to turn both corridors into “super streets.” Both streets would have raised medians to prohibit most left-turn traffic. Traffic signals would be removed to speed up traffic flow. Motorists wanting to go across the street would have to find one of the few U-turns that would be built.

DOT acknowledges such a heavy re-engineering has never been done to a corridor this dense. This redesign on U.S. 1 would stretch from the Saunders Boulevard-Murray Hill Road intersection south to Roseland Road in Aberdeen. On U.S. 15-501, the original plan stretched the medians from Brucewood Road south to the road’s T-intersection with U.S. 1.

Naturally, such an upheaval has worried local officials and businesses over the last couple of years. Their concerns — and ours — were what the final results would do to commerce as much as what impact the two-year construction timeline would have.

“With the growth in Moore, we cannot have this disrupting commerce,” said Aberdeen Mayor Robbie Farrell.

Fortunately, we’ve been granted a reprieve.

Time for More Thought

A five-year delay buys us quite a bit, really. In that time, the super street concept could fall out of favor with engineers. Other short-term, less disruptive fixes could alleviate traffic in ways that hadn’t been expected. Business conditions could change. Town officials will have more time to use land-planning strategies, perhaps, to improve conditions.

Yes, this detour buys us the ability to think twice and cut once. The Midland experience this summer taught us the benefit to that. Few expected that closing a relatively small segment of road for two months in the middle of summer would have much impact. But that was wrong, as anyone stuck in traffic on one of the alternate routes could attest. That little segment was an important route to access U.S. 1 and a lot of houses on the northeast side of Southern Pines. Closing it caused backups all up and down U.S. 1, Pee Dee Road, Pennsylvania Avenue and other roads never intended to handle high volumes.

Just imagine a two-year snarl along U.S. 1 and 15-501. Thank goodness we’ve been granted that reprieve from Orange Barrel Hell.

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