Pittsboro traffic circle reopens

Posted April 14, 2010 11:13 a.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2010 1:33 p.m. EDT

— Chatham County officials on Wednesday reopened the traffic circle around the county courthouse in Pittsboro, almost three weeks after a fire severely damaged the landmark courthouse.

“Workers have basically completed removal of surviving items and debris from the courthouse and have moved the protective fence back so that traffic can move around the entire circle,” County Manager Charlie Horne said in a statement.

Investigators have determined that the March 25 fire was accidentally started by a contractor using a soldering torch. Crews were working on a $415,000 exterior renovation of the 129-year-old courthouse at the time.

The traffic circle marks the intersection of U.S. Highways 64 and 15/501.

Reopening the circle also was necessary because of pending construction of a traffic circle on N.C. Highway 87, which has served as a detour route after the courthouse fire. The new roundabout will be in front of the Chatham Community Library on the Central Carolina Community College campus, where N.C. 87 intersects with Old Graham Road and Camp Drive.

“Any future work on the courthouse means that we may have to close at least a portion of the traffic circle again during certain periods,” Horne said. “We do not yet know when that work will begin or what it will entail, but we must keep the circle open until the roundabout on N.C. 87 is completed, which should take about 120 days.”

With the reopening of the traffic circle, Chapel Hill Transit will resume its stop there for its Pittsboro Express, beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Chatham County commissioners voted to rebuild the courthouse after structural engineers determined that the exterior walls and foundation were stable. The building's interior was gutted by the fire, and its clock tower collapsed.

Officials also said Wednesday that a noted painting of William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was destroyed in the fire. Both Pittsboro and the county draw their names from him.

The painting was hanging in an area of the courthouse where the clock tower collapsed, officials said. The Chatham County Historical Association is considering options to replace the painting.