Officials: Traffic relief for NC 54 'can't come fast enough'

Posted November 21, 2016

— Despite officials' plans to alleviate the traffic congestion on N.C. Highway 54 between Durham and Chapel Hill, city leaders, business owners and residents are worried that the change will come slowly.

Aaron Nelson, a representative for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, is concerned that the backed-up traffic will have a negative impact on the local community. It's not just economic impacts that are of concern -- the traffic interrupts residents' quality of life, too. At 10 a.m. on weekdays, roads in the area are still packed with commuters trying to get to work.

"N.C. 54 is critical not only to Chapel Hill but also to Durham and the region," he said.

To address the heavy congestion, officials with the North Carolina Department of Transportation have planned some large-scale projects for the area, including a bridge, a light rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill and changes to major intersections.

"This corridor needs to be successful for the market to be successful," said Joe Milazzo, a member of the Regional Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit business coalition working with city planners to address traffic issues.

Individuals are still worried, though, because all those projects are at least 10 years away.

"Unfortunately, traffic problems take a long time to address," said Milazzo.

Milazzo and other planners with the nonprofit are looking for answers to help alleviate traffic sooner. Concerned parties from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and the DOT are all working together to find a solution.

"We're getting proactive and getting ahead of the curve," said Milazzo. "We're looking at simpler ways to improve signal timing to help pedestrians get across the street. We're also finding ways to let the buses to get a few-second jump."

Buses are another big concern for the congested N.C. 54 route. With no rail service planned to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, planners want to establish an express bus service with the airport.

Milazzo says planners have to keep the traffic on N.C. 54 moving.

"It is the only way it will work," he said. "It's time to act."

"Ten years is too long of a wait," agreed Nelson.


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