Jonesborough and county officials are working on a plan to reduce a traffic hazard created, to some degree, when the Washington County Justice Center opened a year ago.
A new traffic signal just up the road has done little to ease the problems at the intersection of U.S. Highway 11E and North Cherokee Street at the BP convenience store.
The hazard comes from drivers on North Cherokee who want to head east, toward Johnson City. They must cross the two westbound traffic lanes into a very narrow median break, then merge into eastbound traffic.
Jonesborough Public Safety Chief Matt Hawkins said it’s just down right dangerous, particularly in the morning and afternoon.
“I think time of day certainly comes into play there. Afternoons and mornings are not the time to be making left hand turns form North Cherokee,” Hawkins said.
Jonesborough leaders are so concerned about the traffic problem that Mayor Kelly Wolfe spoke to the County-Owned Property Committee last week to start a cooperative effort to solve it.
“When the Justice Center was planned, some of the earliest plans included an access road on the property,” Wolfe said.
“Because cars have three different exits from the Justice Center, the area at Cherokee has become a continuing traffic hazard.”
Hawkins agrees. Just this year, there have been 19 vehicle crashes, with at least four of those involving injuries.
“That’s absolutely a concern with us,” Hawkins said.
When the Justice Center opened last fall, there were two ways in or out. One was from North Cherokee Street and the other was the main entrance from Highway 11E.
The main entrance is designed so that the four-lane has a turning lane for eastbound traffic entering the Justice Center and a merge lane for traffic leaving the Justice Center toward Johnson City.
Earlier this year, drivers were given a third option, and probably the safest, to leave and enter the Justice Center parking lot.
Road crews installed a traffic signal at Highway 11E and Second Avenue.
The access road eliminated from the original site plans was supposed to lead traffic to that light.
But there is nothing to direct traffic to the sign, which could be one reason drivers aren’t using it instead of the more dangerous exit at North Cherokee.
“The light is new and I don’t know that there is any signage in the Justice Center parking lot directing people to the light,” Hawkins said.
“If you go through the parking lot to the red light then you get a signal. ... a nice safe left turn,” he said.
Kelly said the North Cherokee Street exit “has become a continuing traffic hazard. Sometimes you have three cars in the median turning different directions,” Wolfe said.
“That simply is not an acceptable situation as far as the town of Jonesborough is concerned.”
Some things proposed so far include eliminating left and right turns in the median; closing the North Cherokee entrance to the Justice Center; eliminating a left turn from North Cherokee and creating the previously eliminated access road from North Cherokee to the red light.
“None of these things have been decided upon. They’re just things we are exploring,” Wolfe said.
“We want to be a good partner in solving the problem,” he said.