Council receives economic impact analysis: Study shows costs and benefits of road improvements

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 30, 2018

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Before making a decision on possible improvements to Lewisville-Clemmons Road, including a median from I-40 to Stadium Drive, the Clemmons Village Council reached out at the last minute and received an economic impact analysis report from a couple of Winston-Salem State University economics professors with experience in this area.

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi and Craig Richardson, who both have extensive backgrounds in regional economics (Madjd-Sadjadi was the first economist of the city and county of San Francisco), offered a conclusion in a work session before Monday night’s regular meeting that the economic benefits appear to outweigh the economic costs by a 2-1 ratio and that they recommend going forward with the project.

“This is on purely economic grounds, and that’s very important to say,” Madjd-Sadjadi said. “We are not here to talk to you about your politics, not here to talk to you about safety — that’s what DOT is doing. We’re not here to talk to you about your planning about the impact that’s going to be had with everything else that is going on.”

However, with a final council decision looming on the project — the deadline was extended from Sept. 1 to the next regular meeting on Sept. 11 — the Village decided to spend $5,000 to get this additional input after the most recent meeting on Aug. 13 when the NCDOT presented its recommendation for what it considered to be the best solution for safety while improving traffic flow and reducing delays for the busy corridor.

Data shows that the crash rate from I-40 to Stadium Drive (the 1,300-foot stretch being considered for a median) is about 2.5 times higher than the rate on similar corridors throughout the state.

However, some council members expressed concerns about NCDOT’s preferred Option C, one of three options presented, because of restricting movements that create access issues and how the businesses in the area might be impacted.

Madjd-Sadjadi said that he asked NCDOT officials why they couldn’t give the Village all three options to choose from and just have restrictions during the peak times.

“They said people get confused, and people are going to try to turn anyway,” he said. “They said it’s going to be an enforcement problem, and you’re going to have accidents. We’re not engineers.

“We don’t know what the actual plans will be. If the council does decide to go forward with this project, that you put some stipulations on it, like having more details by such and such a time, then we reserve the right to pull back.”

In the analysis, the Winston-Salem State professors examined the visible vs. invisible costs and benefits, the different perspectives that lead to different conclusions and how to get everyone on the same page.

“We’re here to talk about all the issues,” Richardson said. “One of goals — and it’s been a bit of a hurry in 10 days — was to look at things from a lot of different perspectives. People can be on different sides of this issue — different costs and different benefits. We’re not getting paid to have one conclusion or another. We’re neutral here.”

The visible costs include NCDOT estimating $4.3 million in construction costs and $17 million for acquiring right-of-way, and only $42,500 paid by Clemmons citizens (or a one-time cost of $2.08 per person). With this currently being a Transportation Improvement Project (TIP), there is no cost to the Village for the overall project unless additional sidewalks are added.

Visible costs that are harder to measure, according to analysis, include lost business caused by inaccessibility during construction, potential lost business after the median is constructed due to lost access and reductions in property tax revenues due to state takings (they estimate a drop of $36,800 in tax revenue, with about half being lost by the Village itself).

They envision visible benefits to be decreased accidents over time (estimating a 50 percent reduction based on information from Kimley-Horn), 23 fewer accidents per year (including four fewer Class C injuries and one less Class B injury for an avoided losses total of $716,000 annually and a decrease in traffic tie-ups due to accidents ($8,000 in avoided lost time, based on going wage rates) and potential gained business due to access/safety changes.

Invisible costs, according to the analysis, include longer time for turning left or engaging U-turns due to distance traveled, $354,000 for the estimated cost based on the time value of money, along with the uncertainty on the part of business owners on a number of issues. Invisible benefits include lower stress for drivers and increased access for some businesses.

Among unresolved issues, they recommend a U-turn bulb down the road to help with Sessions Court and shopping center truck traffic, along with adding a separate right-turn lane into Ramada Drive.

NCDOT officials have said that if Clemmons chooses not to do the project, the I-40 interchange, which is currently tied to the Lewisville-Clemmons Road improvements, would go forward as a new statewide project.

Madjd-Sadjadi raised the issue of what’s the point of having a project if you ultimately don’t have some say but then what happens if the Village opts not to proceed with the road improvements at this time.

“If DOT comes in later and decides they want to change that interchange, and it’s now a state project instead of a Village of Clemmons project,” he said, “I don’t know how much leverage you will have.”

In other business, the council:

• Approved a zoning text amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance to modify the Appendix, Traffic Impact Standards — C-UDO-79 — after a public hearing where no one spoke. Planner Megan Ledbetter said that the update “married” some of the language in documents that were specific to Winston-Salem after the Village adopted its own traffic impact analysis policy manual in 2011 and how it now handles traffic studies within Clemmons.

• Heard from Pamela Bowen, who lives in Stadium Ridge, in the public comments portion of the meeting about problems with trash and cigarette butts at the entrance to the athletic facility at Clemmons Elementary School, asking the council if it could provide a trash receptacle with cigarette disposal. Village Manager Scott Buffkin said that he and Public Works Director Mike Gunnell could meet with a representative of the school and the Broncos to help address the situation, and the council agreed by consensus.

• Approved an ordinance declaring a speed limit modification on Gardenspring Drive to 25 mph. The change to the speed limit was actually approved in February 2015 and has been in effect, but it came during a time of transition between the prior and current town clerks and was “simply an oversight,” according to Buffkin.

• Accepted the resignations of Garrett Ball and Joanna Lyall from the Ad-hoc Transportation Committee and decided to leave the number of members of the new committee to the current number of seven for the time being.

• Adopted Resolution 2018-R-11 fixing the date of a public hearing for Sept. 10 on the question of voluntary annexation request of The Arden Group for Magnolia Park. The rezoning request was continued at the most recent Planning Board meeting until September.

• Heard from Shannon Ford in the marketing/communications report that the next “Movie Night in the Village” would be “Wonder” on Sept. 15, starting at 6 p.m. at the Jerry Long Family YMCA.

• Heard from Buffkin regarding the process for filling the upcoming vacancy for a new Clemmons representative on the Forsyth County Historic Commission by the last meeting in October, stating he would begin work on an application process to be posted on the Village website.

• Heard from Allen Daniel in the public comments portion of the meeting regarding the proposed Lewisville-Clemmons Road improvements project. He said “there’s got to be a better way than routing the traffic all through the parking lots and taking right-of-way from businesses,” proposing a plan for a road similar to one in Golden, Colo., where they put in a series of four roundabouts with positive economic results and a significant reduction in accidents.