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Push on for traffic light

STEELE CREEK -- A N.C. 49 wreck that killed three people and left a neighborhood "terrified" Saturday is too terrible for Jason Baker to wrap his mind around. But that doesn't mean he won't use it to prevent something similar from happening again.

"It's just sad -- tragically sad," Baker said.

Baker plans to present his neighborhoods' case this week to Charlotte City Council that RiverPointe Drive and Grand Palisades Parkway intersection at N.C. 49 is dangerous. He also has a meeting scheduled Wednesday with the city and North Carolina departments of transportation.

He and other residents say a traffic light at the intersection, along with a lowered speed limit from 55 to 45 mph, is badly needed.

"I'd say right now we feel like it's even more of a dangerous intersection," Baker said. "Now, they are almost terrified to turn out of here, and a nervous driver is not safe."

Dr. Steve Miszkiewicz, president of the RiverPointe Homeowners Association, like Baker plans a whirlwind tour of media outlets and municipal meetings to see if something can be done to make the intersection safer.

"It didn't have to happen," he said. "It was not a matter of if it would happen, but when. People in this neighborhood are quaking with fear when they go to that intersection."

In June, Miszkiewicz asked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for assistance directing traffic during peak traffic times, calling the intersection "virtually impossible" to navigate.

An e-mail response from CMPD delied the request citing "concerns over the safety of this job for motorists and the officers who may work the job."

"Imagine how we feel if the intersection is too dangerous for the police," Miszkiewicz said at the time. "If it's too dangerous for officers to come in and direct traffic then how's it going to be for us coming out by ourselves?"

Installing a light

Miszkiewicz, along with residents like Ken Goodnight, have been trying to get a light installed since N.C. 49 was a two-lane road. The homeowners group first petitioned the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2003 for a traffic signal.

Residents say they were told when The Palisades came to Steele Creek in 2004 a light would accompany the development at the expense of the developer, Rhein Medall Communities. Jim Medall, president of the company, said last year Crescent Resources would pay for the light, estimated by the state Department of Transportation to cost $225,000 and require 10 months to order and manufacture, plus at least a year for installation.

In August 2008, the Department of Transportation stated Crescent agreed to pay for the light, with installation coming "in the fall of 2009." As of Monday, Crescent had not paid the $219,718 the City of Charlotte said the signal would cost. Jen Thompson, spokeswoman for NCDOT, said Monday the project still depends on developer funding and Charlotte design, with no firm date for installation set.

"A signal is warranted to be put there, and we will hopefully have that done within the next year," she said.

In a July letter to Crescent, Charlotte Department of Transportation said it would take about a year once the check paying for the project is received.

Baker, in a March letter to the Charlotte DOT, said an incident like the one Saturday "seems inevitable." Baker is not certain a traffic light would have prevented the incident Saturday, but says it might have helped.

"Putting a light up would have most definitely proven a deterrent for them to be drag racing," Baker said. "We don't know if it would have stopped them, but it definitely would have been a deterrent."

While last summer all signs seemed to point toward a light coming this year, Baker has not been able to get confirmation from Crescent Resources that the project is funded, or that they will meet with him, he said.

"They are responsible, and they need to foot the bill," Baker said. "A light should be up within a month from now. As of right now, we don't have it."

Attempts to obtain comment from Crescent as of press time Monday were unsuccessful. Miszkiewicz, who "really seriously doubts" Saturday's incident would have occurred had a traffic light been in place, says much of the problem comes in "getting the runaround" from everyone involved.

"If they'd give us an idea what to do, we'd do it," he said.

Likely the reason why someone would race on that stretch of highway, he said, is that everyone knows there are four long lanes of road without any reason to stop before getting to the lake. Which, if not fixed, Miszkiewicz believes could mean Saturday's tragic situation will not be the last.

"The young people of the community know they basically have free reign from Youngblood (Road) to the bridge," he said. "It could happen again, easily."

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