Chapel Hill Leaders Want Roads Better, Not Bigger

The Chapel Hill Town Council has taken a stance of not expanding local roads. Members say they want to make the roads better, not bigger.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Town Council has taken a stance of not expanding roads in Chapel Hill. Members say they want to make the roads better, not bigger.

"The best way to handle the problem in Chapel Hill is to have public transit take care of the problem," said Councilwoman Laurin Easthom, "One of the nice things to do would be to not to expand our roads but add more park and ride lots."

Pushing public transit has long been a project of council members. In 2002, the town started offering free fare on town buses. Ridership has doubled to nearly 6 million people, putting the town of about 51,000 residents and more than 27,000 college students behind Charlotte for the most number of people using public transportation.

As for improving the roads to help alleviate some congestion, Chapel Hill engineers are working with the Department of Transportation on a $5 million light synchronization plan that calls for traffic cameras on Interstate 40.

The cameras would monitor traffic so lights along U.S. Routes 15-501 and N.C. Highway 54 could be readjusted to handle the traffic flow. The project won't be completed until 2011 at the earliest, however.

"Really, the most cost-effective solution to a congestion problem is to add a turn lane," Council member Ed Harrision said, adding that the town is looking at trouble intersections to see which ones need improvements.

Construction on the University of North Carolina campus is also contributing to congestion with a $1.8 billion building campaign. The North Carolina Cancer Hospital is under construction and Manning Road, in front of the project, is also under construction.

"People call that corner near Manning and Emergency drives the 'perfect storm corner,'" said Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities.

The hospital and university projects are expected to last up to three more years.

Runberg said the university works with UNC Public Safety and UNC Hospitals when it comes to road closings and temporary parking.

"We do coordinate with all these groups with an eye to try and minimize the negative impact," he said.

Town leaders believe expanding roads, which have seen little change in the last 20 years, will cut into Chapel Hill's small-town character.


Julia Lewis, Reporter
Don Ingle, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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