Mebane’s city council agreed to proposed plans by the North Carolina rail division within the state’s Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to change lanes of traffic along South Fifth Street at the railroad crossing in downtown and construct a barrier to block left-hand turns onto Washington Street from either direction.
The left-hand prohibition on turning while traveling northbound would prevent turning onto Washington Street to reach the city’s municipal building.
Meanwhile, Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. criticized the council for working on the issue out of the public eye, in private huddles with DOT representatives.
Both Connie Cogdell and Brian Gackstetter, engineers with the DOT, included in their comments to the city council the fact that they had met with each member of the council, as well as the mayor, in the weeks before Monday’s city council meeting.
Both engineers referenced individual meetings – “with each and every one of you,” according to Gackstetter – of the council members prior to Monday’s monthly public meeting.
After the DOT presentations, Boney asked the council members whether the DOT descriptions of such individual meetings were, in fact, accurate.
Mayor Ed Hooks acknowledged that they all, had, in fact, met with DOT.
Boney termed the “sequential meetings with a special interest group such as the Department of Transportation” to be “quite outrageous and extremely disappointing.”
“This council is supposed to conduct its business in open session, not individually, one member at a time, with some special interest, even if the special interest is the state Department of Transportation,” Boney said.
“This is not appropriate for the council to have had sequential meetings with a special interest group,” Boney continued, “and I would certainly hope that the council would avoid this manner of operating in the future.”
Boney added, “It could have been done at a public meeting with you all giving your opinions to them and the public, perhaps – ooh, what a novel idea – let’s let the public have a little input. But no, apparently just this group met with just individual members of the council. And I think that was a great failing of public policy, of this board, on that occasion and topic.”
The council ultimately adopted a “resolution of intent” to urge DOT to proceed with the projects, which involve supposed improvements at each of five rail crossings in Mebane – at Fifth, Fourth, Third, Moore, and Gibson streets.
Most involve minimal changes, usually the addition of sidewalks across the railroad tracks.
But the change at Fifth Street involves reconfiguring the northbound lanes from three to two lanes and installing a median that will prevent both northbound and southbound traffic from making left-hand turns onto Washington Street.
Fencing would also be installed by DOT between rail crossings in order to prevent anyone from crossing the tracks other than at the formal crossings, it was explained.
A previous city council had discussions, public hearings, and workshops on the issue back in 2017 and 2018, according to city manager Chris Rollins and the DOT representatives.
Rollins said that the project had largely been “on hold,” given the lack of state funding for such projects in the intervening years.
Apparently, he said, DOT discovered that they had never gotten a formal approval from the council, which prompted officials to meet, individually, with council members ahead of Monday’s meeting.
Mayor Ed Hooks pronounced the changes a “great improvement,” which will “help a lot” with downtown traffic.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to endorse the DOT’s study and proceed with the rail crossing changes at each of the five crossings.
Read the newspaper’s editorial opinion on this situation “Mebane’s city council should be embarrassed and ashamed by its secret meetings”: https://alamancenews.com/mebanes-city-council-should-be-embarrassed-and-ashamed-by-its-secret-meetings/