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East End Connector: Update from Monday night's meeting

NCDOT held its community update meeting on the East End Connector last night -- a session which was, as Toby points out in the comments on an earlier post, more an information session than a structured meeting.

Officials from NCDOT, DCHC-MPO, the City, and approximately a bajillion other organizations were on hand to answer questions from residents and to show off maps, Powerpoints, and 3D visualizations of the road project. (A hat tip to the folks on the City's EEC committee for pushing the powers that be for the latter visual aid, which was very helpful -- I'd love to see the DOT post it on their web site. They do have this somewhat outdated presentation posted if you're looking for a basic introduction to the project.)

Some project highlights as things are currently designed:

First, the project includes widening US 70 to at least three lanes in each direction from the end of the I-85 new construction area all the way to Lynn Rd. and to upgrade some segments to freeway standards as far as Pleasant Dr. (The NCDOT is considering a longer-term project to turn US 70 into a freeway all the way to I believe the Durham/Wake Co. line, possibly farther, but that's a number of years away.)

A major benefit to this work would be a redesign of the horrendous and dangerous NC 98/Holloway St. interchange with US 70, which looks like it was designed as part of an engineering school contest to build freeways for horse-and-buggy traffic or something. The interchange will be redesigned as an urban diamond interchange, making it much easier and safer to transfer between the two roads.

An exit will exist at Lynn Rd. but with right-turns only at both exits. All other driveways between Pleasant Dr. and and NC 98 will be removed.

South of NC 98, US 70 will widen to accommodate exit/merge lanes; the right lanes as you travel southbound will continue on 70, while the left three lanes will turn west to head towards NC 147. The connector will join with NC 147 south of Briggs Ave. in a lefthand merge. (With three lanes of traffic coming into just two lanes of downtown-originating Durham Freeway cars, it'll probably feel more like a merge experience to drivers coming from the city center.)

One of the most surprising things to see from the maps at this point is just how close 147 and 70 already are. When you hear this described as a 2-mile project, it's easy to forget how much of that lies in ramps and merge lanes; from the moment you take the connector away from 147 or 70, the other road will practically be in site already.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the US 70/EEC/NC 147 route become a popular one for Raleigh and Brier Creek commuters who currently brave stretches of I-40; though some RTP-bound commuters currently exit 70 at TW Alexander and drive through the Park to the Durham Freeway, I suspect more folks headed to downtown, Duke, the hospitals and NCCU will now stay on 70 all the way to the connector.

It's also clear that this road will be a major traffic relief for Alston Ave. and Holloway St., which currently serve as some of the only N-S and E-W connectors through East Durham. Wake Forest and eastern Durham Co. residents who commute in on NC 98 will, I suspect, go the short distance south on 70 in order to zip over to the Freeway.

The total number of residences that will need to be purchased and taken by the state for the project stands at 16 -- six of these houses have been built since the EEC plans were formalized in the early 2000s, according to Barry Ragin's analysis. About 9 businesses will also be involved in taking, if I recall correctly.

The total project price tag currently stands at an estimated $182 million. Final design meetings will be held in spring 2008, with right-of-way acquisition scheduled to begin in 2010 and construction to start in 2014 -- a date which local press accounts hinted the DCHC-MPO will try to get moved back to the old 2012 if possible.

I asked a couple of transportation officials at the meeting their thoughts on the crowd's reaction to what was presented last night, and they noted that the crowd seemed fairly supportive of the project as presented in this form, an assessment that meshed with my own from hearing discussions among the various stations. Time will tell whether NCDOT maintains that tone within the community by providing fair offers and assistance to affected homeowners and businesses -- a matter to which the City, aided by the ad hoc committee formed around the effort, is likely to pay close attention.

Comments

barry

Kevin - the new houses are all along one block of Rowena Dr. I believe it's the 3200 block, although my recollection could be flawed. All 6 were built by the same contractor and sold to investors and are now rented. The Indy interviewed the landlords a month or two back in their EEC cover story.

From the numbers presented last night, i calculated an average of half a million dollars per acre of land to be acquired via eminent domain. It was something like $40 million to purchase 80 acres of land not already owned by NCDOT. Assuming that money is distributed fairly and fully, then i think all the folks who will end up being displaced will be adequately compensated.

Figures i got from NCDOT earlier in the process estimated that 20 years down the line, 25,000 vehicles per day will be taken off our urban surface streets by the EEC.

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