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Resident petitions speed on rural road

February 3, 2012

It’s nearing 3 p.m. on Friday — almost “race time.”

Gerald Bennett takes his hands out of his pockets and takes a few steps toward Grace Church Road.

“In 10 minutes, this road will turn into I-40, qualifying for the Daytona 500,” Bennett said.

Bennett, a longtime resident of Grace Church Road in the Blackburn area, has watched “speeders” race down his street for 10 years. Friday, he showed The O-N-E first hand.

A few cars pass by, tempting the road’s unmarked speed limit of 55 mph. Then, at about 3:08 p.m., they started coming.

VROOOOMM!

A blue Chevrolet Corvette with a T-topped roof races past in a blur.

WHOOOOSH!

A 90s-era Honda Civic blazes past, bumping heavy bass. The speeders continue rushing past for nearly 15 minutes.

I look over at Bennett. He smiles.

“I told you so,” he said. “Now, you think I’m going to cross the road to check my mail box this time of day? No way.”

Haven for speed
For the past decade, Grace Church Road has been a haven for speeders.

Bennett said the road’s combination of narrow lanes and high speeds have led to nearly a half-dozen serious wrecks in recent years, including a flipped car in his front yard about four years ago.

Traffic along the road has increased with population growth, and Bennett said high school students are usually the ones zooming down the road.

He said students from Fred T. Foard High School use Grace Church Road as a means to bypass slow-moving bus traffic on Plateau Road and N.C. 10 when school releases about 3 p.m. on weekdays.

The road, which connects Plateau Road and Hickory-Lincolnton Highway in western Catawba County, does not have a speed limit posted and is by default a 55 mph zone.

Neighbors have tried for years to get the speed limit lowered, even signing a petition in hopes of making the change.

Residents, including Bennett, have also sat down with area police and N.C. Highway Patrol troopers, trying to promote more speed enforcement along the roads.

Little has changed.

Now, Bennett is again trying to pressure the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) into reducing the speed limit.

At a recent Catawba County Board of Commissioners meeting, Bennett discussed the issue with county officials. He caught the attention of Commissioner Barbara Beatty, who wrote a letter to NCDOT Division Engineer Mike Holder.

“That’s what I usually do with citizens who have issues,” Beatty said.

“If anybody has any complaints or concerns, I do request that the DOT take a look at them. When we’ve contacted them, I’ve never had them not come out, take a look and get back to me.”

The county has no control over the speed limit or other factors on roads like Grace Church Road. However, area officials' contact to the NCDOT can often help, Beatty said.

An engineer from the NCDOT contacted Bennett about the issue Jan. 26.

The engineer told Bennett the state would visit the site and “investigate” the matter as quickly as possible, letting Bennett know that Catawba County is one of many areas NCDOT manages.

Representatives from the NCDOT did not respond to a phone call from The O-N-E by press time Friday.

“I can’t place a call and immediately get something done,” Beatty said.

“It has to go through (the NCDOT’s) process.”

Bennett is unsure if an engineer will evaluate the road or make a change, but he’s not getting his hopes up. He said there needs to be a change before someone gets killed or there is another serious accident.

“That’s my third mailbox,” Bennett said, pointing to a black mailbox across the street. “Two of them have been destroyed by wrecks. I don’t want to be putting up a fourth.”

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