One road project wraps up while another is about to begin

The Elliott Road extension in Chapel Hill now open for travel in the Blue Hill district. Photo by Michelle Cassell.


By Fraser Sherman

The Elliott Road extension project that Chapel Hill completed last month will benefit everyone traveling through that part of the Blue Hill district, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger says, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists. “It’s really going to improve bike and pedestrian safety and mobility,” Hemminger said in an interview. “People are already excited about how much safer it is.”

Chapel Hill held the ribbon-cutting on the extension in July and work is scheduled to start this fall. Hemminger said it finished slightly behind schedule, but only because they wanted to coordinate with construction on a neighboring apartment project. By waiting until the apartments were finished, the city avoided dealing with construction debris along the new roadway.

The town approved the extension in 2017 as part of Chapel Hill’s Ephesus Church/Fordham Small Area planning initiative. A city press release says the plan considers current traffic, future land uses and residential and commercial growth as it looks for ways to improve Blue Hill district roads and intersections.

The extension project includes: widening Elliott Road on the west side of Fordham Boulevard; improving the intersection between the two roads; improving the right-turn lane from Fordham onto Elliott; installing a roundabout on Ephesus Church Road; and creating bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths.

Hemminger said the city signed off on the project before she became mayor. In 2020, she and the board looked at the prices contractors quoted for the job and decided to rebid it. “I thought the price was too high as concrete was down [in price]. We saved over $700,000. We got a great deal because concrete’s through the roof now,” Hemminger said.

Construction began in 2021. When completed, the new extension may carry as many as 7,800 vehicles a day.

Chapel Hill Project Manager Marcia Purvis told The Local Reporter that the Fordham Boulevard sidepath is scheduled to start in the fall but hasn’t been awarded yet. She said the North Carolina Department of Transportation must review and approve the bids before the town can proceed.

The Fordham Boulevard sidepath will provide a bicycle/pedestrian path along Fordham south of Willow Drive, connecting to the Ram’s Plaza shopping center. Right now, Hemminger said, that stretch lacks a completed sidewalk, making it dangerous.

The city says the project will improve the existing multimodal path connecting Cleland Drive and Ridgefield Drive along the east side of Fordham. The project design includes a traffic diverter restricting right turns from Fordham onto Ridgefield and raised crosswalks at the Ridgefield/Walnut intersection. Eventually, the town hopes to have a continuous bicycle/pedestrian trail up to Old Durham Road.

The Chapel Hill website says that when the city held a Q&A about the sidepath, several residents asked whether construction would remove the vegetation buffer that shields them from some of the traffic noise. The city’s account of the Q&A said they should be able to preserve some of the buffer along Fordham but four or five properties north of Ridgefield would lose the dense bamboo currently there. The city says the vegetation doesn’t currently block much noise, so removing it shouldn’t make traffic noise worse.

The sidepath is already approved and funded. Chapel Hill has received $160,000 from the Durham Chapel Hill Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization in addition to money already received for the project from the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Alternative Program.

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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