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What are the best transportation solutions for Orange County? 

We’re hoping that the Federal Government says “no” to the ill conceived Durham Orange Light Rail Transit project or the DOLRT project. Light rail ridership is declining everywhere, and Go Triangle’s  project ranks lowest and has the highest cost of those projects in the queue.  There is growing concern about the lack of practical steps in any plan to address future traffic in Orange County.

CHALT is putting our energies in convincing our elected officials that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and a robust feeder system is a better way to spend out limited transit resources. There is a plan that is short of funds that would build BRT along MLK from Eubanks Road to Southern Village.  BRT is far more affordable and would suit  over crowded 15-501 as well. Learn of its efficiency by watching this video.

We respect the work of our transportation staff who are doing the best they can with limited resources.  It’s not possible to grow a robust bus system without serious investment.  An estimated 30 M is going toward engineering studies for the Light Rail that may never be built.  Orange County transportation planners have not been given the “where-with-all” to do much for bus ridership to improve the number of bus routes or to increase frequency of service. Chapel Hill transit has done an admiral job trying to retain service as federal cuts have forced town budgets to absorb more and more of the costs of operations as well as buying or leasing aging buses.

A priority is to urge our elected officials to develop a Plan B if DOLRT fails to get funding from the Federal government.

What are the ingredients of good transportation planning?

I.  Use a traffic model to measure the impact of present and future planned traffic for an area of interest, e.g. Blue Hill District (Ephesus-Fordham). This tool should measure current cumulative traffic impacts from I-40 along Fordham (15-501) to South Columbia Street including likely development out through 2030. The model can be expanded to estimate traffic on major arteries throughout Town and thus help the Town make better infrastructure decisions.

  • What is our assessment so far of the traffic model?  The consultant demonstrated the simulation model of the future 2030 traffic conditions at the Oct. 5, 2017 Public Information Meeting. This simulation showed very serious traffic congestion at a number of the main Blue Hill intersections. A future meeting is planned for the consultant to discuss the 2030 Bike, Pedestrian and Transit (bus) portion of the study.
  • Our transportation future is not pretty.  To overcome the 2030 traffic problems, a number of mitigation steps were modeled with a final satisfactory outcome. These steps involve adding more “Super Streets” along Fordham Blvd as well as dozens of turn lane extensions and second turn lane additions throughout the area modeled. The consultant did not provide a cost estimate for these mitigation steps and has been requested to document the location, length and number of lanes required for each improvement so that the total cost can be approximated.
  • Limited resources to solve the problem.  What is already abundantly clear is that these concrete pavement mitigation steps will far exceed the $10 Million originally estimated to make the Blue Hill District work. The question thus becomes, what additional property will the Town now mortgage to pay for these required additional mitigation steps? (Town Hall has already been mortgaged for the loan to pay for the original $10 Million Blue Hill infrastructure investment. It will take over 20 years using ALL the new district incremental property tax just to pay back this loan.)

II.  Create and implement a Town-wide pedestrian and bike plan. 

  • The consultant draft of the Chapel Hill Mobility and Connectivity Plan has been released and is to be presented to Town Council Oct 25 for review. In summary, the “Plan” provides a very good account of the mobility and connection needs of Chapel Hill residents. Overall, the Plan’s focus on the 5 main road corridors in Chapel Hill and the concept of interconnecting existing Greenways into an off-road bike/pedestrian network of 6 paths is exceptionally good.
  • The Plan presents over 100 recommendations to meet the Town’s needs. Prioritizing them, the top 20 of these recommendations listed in Appendix D have an estimated cost of at least $12 Million which is well in excess of the available $5 Million from the 2015 Trails and Greenways Bond Referendum, so financing will be a real challenge.

III.  Regional Transit that is affordable for everyone.  The route connects two population centers but does not capture where people want most to go. CHALT is committed to explore options to improve mobility for working families, students, seniors and others within Chapel Hill and throughout the Triangle. We are not supportive of the planned Durham-Orange light rail plan (DOLRT) because it’s too expensive, siphons transit monies that could otherwise help to build a robust transit network instead of a single point to point light rail route between Chapel Hill and Durham, and does not connect our economic centers. Read the Orange County transportation plan here.

  • Transit that connects major destinations within and outside Orange County. See the Bus Rapid Transit Plan map here.  The Town has issued Requests for Proposals for both the initial design services and environmental impact studies for the Bus Rapid Transit Plan for MLK jr. Blvd.  We are especially interested in transportation that includes buses and demand services (like EZ Rider and Uber), and that aligns with development and growth patterns in our county.

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