LUMBERTON — Local leadership is the key to reducing traffic fatalities in Robeson County, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation secretary.
James Trogdon spoke Thursday to a crowd of first responders and regional leaders during the second meeting of the Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force.
“We need a strong partnership with the locals telling us what we need to do to improve traffic safety in Robeson County,” Trogdon said. “My goal is to resource their ideas and resource their plan, not for us at the state level to have a plan for Robeson County.”
All first responders throughout the county were invited to send a representative to the meeting. The task force agreed in February to reach out to first responders and anyone interested in helping the group pursue its goal of reducing traffic accidents and fatalities in the region.
Robeson County is the first area in the state to take part in the initiative, and earned the distinction the wrong way. Despite accounting for just 1 percent of North Carolina’s population, about 3 percent of the state’s 1,287 traffic fatalities in 2017 took place in the county.
A total of 4,355 crashes occurred in the county last year, and state traffic engineer Kevin Lacy said that is costing more than just lives.
“Right now in North Carolina, the crash cost per person is $2,500,” Lacy said.
Lacy told the task force about several projects the Transportation Department can take in order to improve traffic safety. The installation of all-way stops, medians and roundabouts were among the options discussed.
Those improvements might not always be conveniently placed or aesthetically pleasing, but the lifesaving purpose they serve makes them worthwhile investments, he said.
Lacy talked about focusing on specific corridors in which to implement improvements. Those corridors would be identified by county law enforcement officials and first responders.
Choosing specific areas to address would increase the feasibility of the task force’s initiative, he said.
“It’s going to be tough to do the entire county, much less the state as a whole,” Lacy said.
Brian Mayhew, a state traffic engineer, said it is important to take a comprehensive approach when determining which areas throughout the county to focus on.
“The fatal crashes in this county are widespread,” Mayhew said.
Grady Hunt, a state Board of Transportation member and local attorney, is the director of the task force. He opened the floor near the end of the meeting for the first responders in attendance to speak about their concerns.
Highway Patrol troopers, Sheriff Kenneth Sealey, and emergency medical technicians from local municipalities were among those who spoke.
The group discussed many accident-prone intersections in the county, including multiple junctions along Pine Log Road in Lumberton.
Other areas of concern included the entrances and exits at the Mountaire Farms plant in Lumber Bridge. Highway Patrol Sgt. Phillip Collins said Sealey routinely has to send officers to direct traffic outside of the facility during shift changes.
Transportation Department officials said they will take those concerns into account when planning for future projects, and Hunt told the first responders to report other concerns as they become evident.
“You’re going to see things we don’t know about,” Hunt said.
Greer Beaty, deputy secretary of the Transportation Department, presented a draft of an action plan for the task force to pursue. The draft included several ideas for marketing and outreach tactics.
No executive vote was taken for a marketing plan, but the task force did approve a small informational flier to be distributed to students in the county.
A public relations class at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is being tasked with creating a social media plan for the initiative, said Bruce Siceloff, communications officer with the Transportation Department. The class will present that plan to Siceloff on April 26.
“We have all the right partners,” Trogdon said. “We just need to listen to the ideas and take those ideas and work together to to show some improvement.”
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected]