PEMBROKE — With the traffic noise of a busy North Odom Road as a backdrop, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke broke ground Friday morning on a $5 million highway safety project.
Nearly 3,000 students, faculty and staff cross Odom Road, a busy five-lane highway that runs along the university’s east boundary, every day. The UNCP gateway project will squeeze traffic into two lanes. The project calls for two roundabouts, one to serve as the main entrance to the university at University Drive and the other at Corinth Road, where Odom Road becomes Prospect Road.
The project also will improve traffic safety with the use of medians and the roundabouts. For pedestrians, there will be crosswalks traversing lanes carrying slower traffic and sidewalks on both sides of the road. There also will be bike lanes on both sides of the highway.
The project contract was awarded in February to BMCO Construction of Lumberton. Work will begin next week. It is expected to be completed in fall 2019.
Grady Hunt, a Pembroke resident and at-large member of the DOT Board of Transportation, introduced the project to an audience of about 75 people.
“This is all about safety, traffic flow and appearance,” Hunt said. “This much-needed makeover will dramatically improve not only the safety but the appearance of a major route into the UNC Pembroke campus.”
The project will be “a welcome mat for UNC Pembroke,” said Jim Trogden, DOT secretary.
“This is an example of how we can be better partners with a growing university,” Trogden said. “We collaborated with the university and the town to fine-tune what became an innovative design.”
The project is “another milestone in the 131-year history of this university,” said Robin Cummings, UNCP chancellor.
A survey showed 2,600 pedestrian crossings of Odom Road over a typical 13-hour period, Cummings said.
“This project is a worthy safety improvement for the university, but it is also economic development for Robeson County and the region,” Cummings said. “With NC Promise, we expect enrollment to rise from 6,300 to 7,000 in three to five years. That will add even more cars and students crossing the road.”
“This will improve the first impression of the university,” he said. “It speaks to the sense of excellence and vision for change of this university.”
UNCP lowered its tuition for incoming freshmen next fall to $500 per semester through a state-funded program. NC Promise has stimulated considerable interest with the largest crowd ever expected for the upcoming spring open house, hosted by the Office of Admissions for interested applicants.
Before the Odom/Prospect gateway project, UNCP lacked a main entrance. The former main entrance off Third Street on the south end of campus was eliminated five years ago by another DOT project that relieved traffic congestion.
University Drive runs by the Givens Performing Arts Center and carries vehicles to Lumbee Hall, UNCP’s administrative building.
Odom Road was upgraded to five lanes about 15 years ago. As the university grew, student apartments, parking and administrative offices were added across the street. Although two crosswalks were added, traffic still moved swiftly and pedestrians often ignored the crosswalks.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]