Chapel Hill traffic projects near completion; longer-term transit projects advance

Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay.


By Gregory DL Morris

Several major construction projects around Chapel Hill intended to reduce traffic have entered their final stages and are scheduled to be completed in a few months. At the same time, some projects – including transit, walking trails, and bicycle routes – are beginning.

Designers and planners have come to understand that traffic in urban and suburban areas will always increase to fill the available space, so it is effectively impossible to alleviate congestion by adding lanes or building more roads. Providing more alternatives to driving is the only long-term solution to traffic.

Rosemary Street

The redevelopment along Rosemary St. is one of the largest Chapel Hill projects. The central block of Rosemary has been closed for many months as a new parking deck is being built on the north side of the street. The nearby intersection of North St., Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd, and Route 86 is being realigned as part of the project.

The Rosemary Parking Deck and the intersection improvements are all expected to be completed in May 2024.

Estes Drive and MLK

There is a less definitive completion date for the other big development that has closed a road at Estes Drive and MLK.

Susan Brown, executive director for strategic communications for the Town of Chapel Hill, told TLR: “We expect that Estes Drive will be completed in the next several months. We’ve finished the multi-use path and bike lane along the north side of Estes, running from Caswell to Somerset. Recently, all utilities have been relocated and all water lines have been constructed and tied into existing lines. Right now, we have utility crews installing the storm drains under the road. There are also crews simultaneously grading along the south side and installing curb, gutter, and sidewalk wherever else they can.”

Homestead Road

Beyond those, one high-priority project is also underway: the Homestead Road Connectivity Project. “We are also in the design and engineering phases of three other priority projects,” said Brown. Those are the Estes Extension bicycle and pedestrian improvements from MLK to the Carrboro town line, the Bolin Creek Greenway Extension from Umstead Park to the Estes Extension, and the Cameron Ave. protected bike lanes from Merritt Mill to Columbia.

North-South Bus Rapid Transit

The transformational transit project for the area is the North-South Bus Rapid Transit (NSBRT), which will run along Route 86 from Eubanks Park & Ride to Southern Village.

Rendering of bus rapid transit vehicle and stop, courtesy of Chapel Hill Transit.


“Chapel Hill Transit [CHT] is a department of the town,” Brown explained, “and is leading the NSBRT in coordination with our local, state and federal partners. NSBRT is a long-standing priority for the town and region. Projects of this nature usually rely on federal funding and in the case of NSBRT, almost 80% of the project’s planning and construction is expected to be funded through federal sources. At this point, we expect construction to begin in 2026. However, that depends upon federal funding and the federal processes that we must follow to be eligible for this critical funding.”

Chapel Hill Transit has said that once the NSBRT is in operation, local bus routes and schedules will be coordinated. CHT has a Short-Range Transit Plan, adopted by Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro and by UNC in 2020 following almost three years of community engagement.

Short-Range Transit Plan

“The Short Range Plan identifies over $12 million in unfunded service priorities identified as needs through community engagement,” Brown said. “GoTriangle [the regional bus operator] is in the process of updating their Short-Range Plan. Where possible, Chapel Hill Transit and GoTriangle will align service and bus-stop improvement priorities.”

Map of NSBRT route, courtesy of Chapel Hill Transit.


The town “strongly advocates for projects that improve transit and provide safety improvements for all roadway users consistent with our Vision Zero Policy,” Brown said. “Some recent examples include prioritizing NSBRT for state funding consideration, and significant safety improvements at three locations along NC-54, and a protected crosswalk at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Critz Drive. The NC-54 and crosswalk projects are managed by NCDOT, and our staff and elected officials have requested that these projects be expedited.”

Traffic signal systems

Bus Rapid Transit will be a sea change for the area. Until then, local authorities and drivers will have to continue coping with congestion as best they can. Notably, a few intersections around town back up into the next intersections every morning and afternoon. Some are on campus, but the town maintains the traffic signal system.

“Staff use strategically placed cameras to monitor traffic flow throughout town during peak periods Monday through Friday and for major special events,” Brown said. “Our traffic signal system also collects data that helps us analyze and adjust traffic signal timing plans. We also use a software program to help us determine optimal signal timings.

“UNC also has a traffic management center providing them the opportunity to monitor traffic patterns utilizing the cameras,” Brown continued. “Town staff has a good working relationship with UNC whom we often coordinate with for any necessary adjustments. If the intersection/roadway is under construction improvements, the contractor is responsible for maintaining the traffic signals and making adjustments in conjunction with the Town and/or NCDOT.”

Gregory DL Morris is an independent journalist based in Chapel Hill with more than 30 years’ experience covering business, environment, energy and infrastructure. He has reported from all 50 states, eight Canadian provinces, and 17 countries on five continents.

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