New traffic pattern improves dangerous intersection near UNCW


Caitlyn Dark

The new traffic pattern at Racine Drive and College Acres Drive.

Jacob Sawyer, Staff Writer

The city of Wilmington has worked to improve a congested and crash-prone intersection near the UNC Wilmington campus.

A set of yellow pillars has been installed along Racine Drive, preventing motorists from making any left turns. On College Acres Drive, continuing straight is also banned. Additionally, new signs have been erected, including flashing stop signs on College Acres as well as warnings marked with red flags on Racine. Pedestrian crosswalks, however, remain unobstructed.

The changes come after the city analyzed many accidents at the junction and noticed that they had a very specific, limited set of causes. One of the most rampant types was a driver turning and failing to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist, injuring them. Many other collisions, mostly from College Acres, resulted from motorists believing that they had enough time to clear the intersection when they really did not, usually due to haste or impatience. Some have even mistaken the junction for a four-way stop or waved on drivers without the right-of-way, leading to additional wrecks.

Severe congestion has also plagued the crossroads. Less than 500 feet separates Racine Drive from College Acres and the very busy intersection of Randall Drive. That junction operates on a system of traffic signals, but queueing traffic may still back up to College Acres. The increasing numbers of both UNCW students overall and students residing off but very close to campus only clogs the roads further.

The gridlock is also an underlying cause of the many types of collisions identified by the city. Consequently, the city of Wilmington has selected the pattern found to eliminate the most congestion from an array of options. That list included a four-way stop, traffic signal and roundabout, but all of these would have slowed down traffic at the Randall intersection due to a shortage of queueing space on Racine.

“The main shortcomings you would have of this design that’s currently out there is it does create a less convenient access to the College Acres neighborhood,” Wilmington Traffic Engineer Don Bennett said. “Were there a more feasible design, were there a more feasible way to eliminate the potential for collisions, we would have gone with that.”

The changes were implemented over the month-long Christmas break. The city is currently analyzing the project to decide whether it was effective in mitigating traffic jams and preventing collisions. If the configuration is found to work well, the city will implement a permanent concrete median at the location of the pillars.

“Anything that we are doing there, we are trying to make it so that we can take it out with minimal restoration and minimal reconstruction if needed,” Bennett said

Law enforcement is already taking action to ensure the integrity of the new setup. According to an email from Detective John W. Seay, UNCW police officers alone have conducted 37 traffic stops as a result of violations of the traffic pattern. Sixteen have led to verbal or written warnings, and fifteen other drivers were awarded citations. Four stops have led to arrests, all due to non-traffic offenses. The remaining two were “no action” cases.

As for students who regularly use the crosswalk, they seem to enjoy the added safety. “I feel a lot safer crossing the street, or even just walking down the sidewalk now,” said Stevie McMillian, a graduate student in English who regularly walks the crosswalk on her commute to campus, “It’s definitely an improvement.”

Racine Drive connects the university to Eastwood Road/US-74. College Acres Drive connects Racine to South College Road/NC-132 as well as many residential neighborhoods.