Last summer, when the State Farmers Market began building a new driveway out to Lake Wheeler Road, it hoped to have it open in time for Thanksgiving.
That didn’t happen. Six months later, the two-lane driveway and parallel sidewalk snake down toward the road and end in piles of gravel, a few dozen yards short of their destination.
“Yes, our new road is still unfinished,” market manager Sim McIver wrote in an email. “Which is unfortunate, because we really need it right now.”
The state agreed to put off finishing the final section of the drive after the city raised questions about its compatibility with other planned changes at the intersection of Lake Wheeler and Maywood Avenue.
“There are future plans to improve Lake Wheeler Road and the connections along the road,” McIver wrote. “They will include improved traffic lanes and intersections, sidewalks and crosswalks, bike lanes and improved lighting and landscaping.”
Specifically, the city is considering adding a traffic light at Maywood and Lake Wheeler, as well as sidewalks along both sides of Lake Wheeler, said Kevin Kidd, an engineering reviewer with the city.
Under the state’s initial designs for the driveway, exiting drivers would only be able to make right turns onto southbound Lake Wheeler. McIver said about 90% of farmers market customers who use Lake Wheeler are on their way south toward Interstate 40, and the right-turn only lane would keep cars moving in the absence of a traffic light.
But with the city leaning toward installing a light, it would rather have the farmers market driveway designed to let exiting customers also turn left onto Lake Wheeler or go straight onto Maywood, said Kidd. The full, four-way intersection would also make it easier to create safe pedestrian crossings.
Kidd said the state has agreed to change the driveway to a full intersection, and that traffic will move smoothly there even before the city installs a traffic light.
“This is a good setup for this driveway,” Kidd said. “There’s a lot of good that’s really coming out of this. The city’s really appreciative of the Department of Agriculture. It’s been a really good working relationship.”
About 3 million people a year visit the State Farmers Market to buy North Carolina-grown produce and plants, as well as baked goods, meat, fish and other specialty products. The market draws as many as 25,000 on a typical summer Saturday, McIver said.
Traffic moves into the market fairly smoothly off Centennial Parkway onto Farmers Market Drive, but exiting can be slow on busy days. All the exits pass close to the market buildings, where drivers must yield to crossing pedestrians before turning left across traffic onto Farmers Market Drive.
The new driveway will give customers an alternative route directly to and from Lake Wheeler Road. With its new plans taking shape, the farmers market hopes to finish the driveway sometime this summer, McIver said.