By Gregory DL Morris
On Tuesday, several important local and regional traffic-reduction and transit plans were moved closer to reality at the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC-MPO) board meeting. Those included plans for the reconfiguration of Highway 15-501 in the stretch between the Chapel Hill town line and the interchange with Interstate 40, as well as efforts to expand and improve connections among existing transit services.
This month’s meeting starts a busy period for the DCHC-MPO. “There is a lot going on in the next two months or so,” said Kelly Fomenko, a transportation planner with the organization. “There will be continuous opportunities for public comment on the plans and studies.”
This week’s specific topic of the board meeting was an amendment to the [already] adopted short-range transportation plan, known as the FY2024-2033 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). That program contains highway, bicycle, rail, pedestrian, and transit projects for the DCHC region happening currently and throughout the next 10 years.
The DCHC urbanized area includes all of Durham County, the portion of Orange County including the towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough, as well as northeast Chatham County. DCHC is one of the ten urban areas in North Carolina designated as a Transportation Management Area because it has a population of over 200,000 people.
That population is all on the road at the same time in the mornings and afternoons, which gives urgency to the DCHC-MPO studies and plans. The 15-501 Corridor Study was updated from “freeway conversion” to “boulevard conversion.” It involves additional access routes, congestion mitigation, and setting the groundwork for expanded public transit.
“The 15-501 study is funded for the next fiscal year, running from July 2024 through June 2025,” said Fomenko. “It will be a few years before we see actual work starting. We understand that the extensive studies may seem to take a long time, and we do get feedback saying we should just get on with the work. But engagement with all stakeholders is important. And transportation projects take so many years to complete that if you don’t get it right, there might not be a chance to fix it for a very long time.”
Several other current projects include the FAST-2 study 2.0 with NCDOT to improve intermodal transportation, a high-capacity feasibility study for fast transit within Chapel Hill, an Orange County bicycle and pedestrian plan, as well as short-range transit plans for both Orange and Durham counties.
In North Carolina, the long-range transportation plan is carried out by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for municipalities and urban areas. All municipalities must have a long-range transportation plan that is mutually adopted by the governing body of the respective municipalities and NCDOT.
Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.