ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WMBF) - Two of the most dangerous rural roadways in North Carolina are in Robeson County, NC 711 and SR 1006.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation and Governor’s Highway Safety Program have identified a total of 14 roadways across the state to increase safer driving as part of a national Rural Route Safety Initiative sponsored by the National Governor’s Association.
The county has led the state in the most highway deaths for the past 7 years. Thursday morning, state transportation officials met with the Robeson County Vision Zero task force and other local leaders to come up with solutions.
“In our county in 2017 with 53 deaths... that's just too many,” task force chairman, Grady Hunt said. “That’s local people, that’s people that we know, that’s friends, neighbors, family… it’s not strangers I mean it’s not folks coming through the county, it’s folks living in the county.”
To start off the meeting Hunt gave an update on the task force efforts since forming in 2018. Hunt said the group has been raising awareness mainly through educational campaigns at local colleges and high schools. Hunt said deaths have decreased from 53 to 48 from last year.
"We've met with first responders, we've met with clergy and we just tried to identify specific groups that we felt like could spread the word for us," he said.
In the past 5 years, there have been 713 crashes on NC 711 that connects Lumberton to Pembroke. Out of that number Kimberly Eccles, the Safety Practice Leader for VHB, said 5 of the crashes have been deadly, killing 8 people. 3 of the those who died weren’t wearing a seat belt. Most of the drivers were teenagers.
"So there's a real opportunity there to target citizens in Lumberton and Pembroke and try to increase their highway safety," Eccles said.
While 711 is a busy roadway, SR 1006 is not. However, there were 171 crashes, 2 deadly, in the last 5 years.
"Very low volume and the fatalities were very close together. We also saw a lot of serious crashes," Eccles said.
During the meeting, officials gave their input towards a 4 prong approach that will be used to find solutions: education, enforcement, emergency response, and engineering. Now with the state and nation-making highway safety a priority Hunt believes their goal of zero deaths is more possible than ever before.
“It’s very aspirational and I understand that folks on the task force understand that, but that’s got to be our ultimate aim to not have any deaths,” Hunt said.
A roundabout for NC 711 is currently in the design progress. An All-the-way stop for SR 1006 near Rennert Road is expected to be installed in February.