BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for April 27, 2010
Durham's Tobacco Road Sports Cafe opens at lunch today

East End Connector hearing comes amidst business park interest, DCABP and small biz frowns

This afternoon from 4-7pm, NCDOT will hold a second public hearing at the Holton Center in East Durham, musing that session #2 was needed due to a relatively late notice for the first hearing.

Eec_from_nc147 That said, the state agency everyone loves to hate got plenty of feedback the first time it set to hearing the feedback of the public.

Not that there was an overwhelming turnout by the vox populi, mind you, with only a handful of speakers turning out. But among those speakers were several who consider themselves the vox of perhaps a larger subset of the populi than they represent.

Still, the big news out of the March hearing (and the items worth watching in tonight's session) revolved around two relatively new developments in the effort.

First, concerns from new business owners that the new road is geared to through traffic as opposed to helping local businesses, something NCDOT is reportedly thinking about adjusting -- and something likely to be crucial as NCDOT moves to a new, less-politicized method for scoring projects' cost-benefit and allocating funds, in which economic growth impact matters more than ever.

And second, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, courtesy longtime EEC nemesis and brand-spankin'-new Committee VP of economic development the Rev. Sylvester Williams, is raising concerns over the road.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the March hearing, NCDOT noted that the impact on the neighborhood was minimal -- literally, with a spokesperson noting the Federal Highway Administration was saying the EEC would have a "de minimis" impact.

Sixteen residences will be eligible for purchase and relocation, along with nine businesses, and a church and church office. A cemetery will be impacted but no graves will need to be moved; a few homes near Rowena Ave. are eligible for a noise wall if residents choose to accept it.

(That's likely due to the fact that the road has been long-planned, with NCDOT owning much of the land surrounding the future road, limiting development possibilities.)

Eec_changes The project begins on US 70 north of NC 98/Holloway St., whose long-troubled interchange with US 70 with tiny on-ramp loops would be replaced with a "compressed diamond' interchange with four ramps, no loops. 

Additionally, portions Holloway St. would become access-controlled in each direction for a ways east and west from the interchange, fencing to prevent road ingress/egress close to the intersection.

Southerland Road's connection to Holloway would also be closed, with Southerland users needing to connect to Hoover St. and use the signalized intersection with Holloway/NC 98 instead. 

Similarly, Carr Rd. and Lynn Rd. will no longer connect directly to the US 70 bypass; Business 70 and Holloway or Pleasant Dr. will be needed to access the upgraded freeway.

Near East End Ave., the road forks, with the Connector passing over Rowena Ave. towards Glover Rd. and the Durham Freeway connection,with US 70 traffic proceeding on the other side towards Raleigh and RDU.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When it came time for public comment, the speakers were few, but several raised points not heard before on the EEC.

The Rev. Mel Whitley, a long-time supporter of the project, told the agency officials that East Durham had worked to make itself "more marketable" for development, but fretted that the road as designed doesn't completely meet that goal. "We would like to suggest to [NCDOT] that they do a little bit more," he said, complaining about a loss of local access to getting on and off the highway, with limits now to Lynn Rd. and Holloway St.

Whitley asked for a "complete loop" at Carr Rd. with a full-motion interchange. "What it does is open up all this land right in here," he said, noting that an industrial park "that would create jobs for East Durham" was a possibility -- but lacking a loop makes the land less marketable.

"This idea may cost a little bit more, but we'll get a lot more for it, and it will give us some social justice and support in exchange for our support for this project," Whitley said.

He wasn't alone. Kennon Borden spoke next -- and isn't exactly a disinterested party to the whole matter, to say the least.

Borden spoke up for an eponymous corporation (Borden Development Corp.) that controls a nearly 100 acre parcel of land, shown in yellow in the image below, and straddling the area between the Durham Freeway and US 70. The East End Connector's presence would bring a significant amount of new traffic past his parcel, which Borden thinks could be ripe for that industrial park.

Borden_us70

"This is one of the largest undeveloped pieces of land in the City of Durham," Borden said, noting that it was zoned and had all utilities, and that his goal was to develop it as a business park bringing jobs into east-central Durham.

Borden noted he has a deeded right of access east and westbound to Hwy. 70; the present NCDOT plan would limit access. Providing a full-movement access east and west at the Carr Rd. bridge, he said, would enhance economic opportunities and help East Durham -- not to mention, one imagines, making a business park there more likely.

Borden noted that he had plans for an idea that he said wouldn't hurt the road's design but would improve access, and added that he'd provided those to NCDOT. 

John White, the point person on legislative and governmental affairs at the Durham Chamber, added his support for both the project and an accommodation for the Borden project. White added that both Durham Mayor Bill Bell and Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker came to the table with NCDOT Sec. Gene Conti earlier this year to express their support for the project as a regional effort.

So what are the odds?  A source close to the process tells BCR that NCDOT has actually started mulling the idea over, given the economic benefits and job creation potential, and that it's possible such an accommodation will be made.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A business park wasn't on the mind of the Rev. Sylvester Williams; Williams, an investment advisor-cum-prophetic preacher who waged an unsuccessful bid for the City Council last fall, introduced himself as -- and this was news to us -- the new vice president of economic development for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

"Our opposition to building the East End Connector has been joined by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People of which I am vice chair of economic development, and the Durham Business and Professional Chain, of which I am chair of economic development," Williams said.

Williams cited three reasons for the opposition, including additional air pollution caused by the increased traffic on the EEC as a health risk for the residents remaining in areas like Rowena Ave. and East End Ave. (Curiously, this hasn't come up as an issue in any discussions of DCABP-supported big development projects in South Durham or elsewhere that would add tens of thousands of cars to existing roads, but I digress.)

On economic development, Williams said that the new road would not help existing businesses on Holloway St./NC 98, calling the largely minority-owned businesses as suffering from an "economic malaise." He called for any road to provide better service to those business owners.

Finally, he raised the concern that NCDOT itself has raised of a lack of money so far to build the road. "Why, then, are they pursuing this," he mused, calling it a "land grab" as done with the Durham Freeway to destroy local businesses. "All it is is just a threat of eminent domain, to drive people out of their homes, getting them to feel afraid and to sell their land for just pennies on the dollar."

BCR checked in with Dr. Lavonia Allison, chair of the DCABP, a few days after the meeting to confirm whether this was the view of the Committee.

In an email message, Dr. Allison noted:

Rev. Williams was recently elected to fill a vacant position of Vice Chair of the Economic Committee of the Durham Committee. The East End Connector has been discussed in the Economic and Housing Committees. There are some serious concerns at this time regarding the route that has been laid out.The problems that are now present are the basis for opposition.

In a follow-up phone call, Allison stated that Williams' committee was working on the issue and that the matter would be brought back to Committee meetings beginning in April. During the brief conversation, Allison opined that there was "serious opposition" to the project originating in the neighborhood surrounding the project, and echoed Williams' complaints.

The call was cut short when Allison asked for details about Bull City Rising and, complaining that she does not talk to the news media and does not talk to the media via phone, disconnected the call. Allison did not respond to a follow-up email seeking further clarification.

At least a couple of other local business owners expressed their own doubts on the project.

A car dealer at the corner of S. Miami and Lynn Rd. noted that almost all the traffic he sees on the road passing him are commuters, and "there's no business for them to stop."

He complained that a controlled-access freeway would be a "tunnel" going through this area, supporting pass-throughs and not local business needs.

He added he lives in Chapel Hill and commutes to his business each day, and that it's clear some kind of connector is needed given the traffic levels. "We need a connector, but not this kind. We need more access."

Comments

GreenLantern

Getting this project moving forward, and avoiding a death by a thousand cuts, is going to depend on getting the downtown neighborhood groups who were vocal proponents of the EEC a few years ago, to pack hearings and meetings that come up in order to check the power of the Durham Committee. Allison and Williams are just using this issue to stir up attention to themselves and increase the influence of their organization. They don't care about economic, environmental, or social impact of the EEC on their east Durham constituency, bringing up ghosts of the Durham Freeway. There's not much of a neighborhood to speak of in the path of the EEC, as most of the land has already been on the books as right of way for the EEC since 1958, and much of the properties are zoned other than residential. I don't have a lot of sympathy for property owners who built new development in the path of the EEC, when they knew beforehand the land was going to be taken by eminent domain. I also don't see why we have to preserve every car dealer, pawn shop, palm reader, and massage parlor along US70 when it comes to upgrading that route in the future. Someone is going to be impacted negatively by growth and expansion of new highways. It's not just about one business, or one home, or one local PAC, it's about serving the greater good of the community by having the proper infrastructure in place to deal with future growth, and the jobs that come with it.

It's funny how Williams claims air pollution is going to be any worse with the EEC in place, versus the traffic already backed up every day only 1/2 mile away from the Borden property along the freeway and US70--as if there was some sort of force field keeping the exhaust fumes from the east end!

Modifying the loops for reasonable access is a good idea, as is the creation of a new business/industrial park on the Borden properties. RTP and other parks in Durham are getting short on space, and those jobs are needed in the community. There's not a huge amount of industrial zoning, and it's often restricted near major residential areas. It's not unrealistic to make changes to improve access for a greater economic benefit, but to try to keep access for the few residents along the route by adding too much access, only takes away from the purpose of the EEC, which is a commuter connection to bypass downtown neighborhoods and reduce stop and go congestion on US70/S.Miami to and from RTP.

So if you really support the EEC as is, or with VIABLE changes for the greater good of ALL Durham citizens, not just the people right next to it, or to leave the decisions to the power of a local PAC with leaders exhibiting god-complex behavior, you really need to show up, speak up, and write articles that the decision makers will take into account. The DOT is short of funds to finish the EEC anytime soon and there are always shifting priorities around the state. The more we keep it at the front of the priority list, the sooner the money will come and not be diverted to other minor projects, and suffer the death of a thousand cuts.

GreenLantern

"But among those speakers were several who consider themselves the vox of perhaps a larger subset of the populi than they represent"

...good one, Kevin.

chloe

I am an East Durham resident and went to the first East End Connector meeting. Overall I was impressed with the design of the new road. In particular, I am looking forward to the *much* improved interchange between 70 and Holloway St (which is now almost a death trap as, from the North, you come upon the very tight turn exit to Holloway St with no slow down lane). As well as improved sidewalks and overall road improvement of Holloway St all the way to the 5 points intersection with Miami.

I think the DOT has done a very good job of adding designs to the road to keep roads open and neighborhood connected-- Rowena Ave was originally planned to be cut in half, now there is an overpass.

I think this is a good connector route-- one that should help remove some congestion from Alston Ave and possibly Roxboro/Mangum for cars that want to travel between North and South Durham.

natalie

I live in East Durham and I support the East End Connector.

Todd Patton

Opposition to the EEC after 30+ years of delay is curious. Getting through traffic off Alston Ave will be a big plus for NECD - far more than any negative impact from the EEC.

If the Borden property gets an interchange off of the EEC, the value of that land will increase exponentially. That addition to the tax base would be a good thing, as would the potential job impact in the area. It should be developed in a dense, transit-friendly manner due to its proximity to the rail line and RTP.

However, the additional interchange should not delay the EEC in any way, and the Borden folks should be on the hook to pay for it all. The Southpoint Mall developers paid millions for upgrades to the Fayetteville Road and 751 interchanges with I-40. The same should apply here - taxpayer-paid road improvements should not be a gift to a land speculator.

Erik Landfried

If "getting through traffic off Alston Ave" is the goal (and a big plus), then why is NCDOT preparing to widen it?

I don't understand how anyone can say that opposition to the EEC is "curious." Sylvester Williams is a pastor at a church in the Hayestown neighborhood (it shows up as Hayes on Google maps). Go check out where it is and where the EEC would be built. No, not a lot of houses or businesses would be taken, but what happens to those that remain? They get boxed in by the Durham Freeway to the southwest, an enhanced freeway to the northeast and a new connector between the two buzzing right by their neighborhood.

And in the current plan, they would have no easy access to these beautiful new highways. Sounds like a lot of fun. Newer houses? I feel less sorry for those (although when a project has been on the books for 52 years without funding, an assumption that it may never be built is not unreasonable). But neighborhoods that have been around for a long time like Hayestown? If you don't understand their opposition to this project, you should spend a little time talking to residents there.

Look, I see the value in constructing the East End Connector, but I have some major concerns about it:

1. As I mentioned before, why widen Alston Ave. and build the East End Connector at the same time? Seems unecessary.

2. While I appreciate that this may remove some traffic from the arterial north-south streets in central Durham (Duke/Gregson, Roxboro/Mangum), I want NCDOT and the City to go further. Those streets are not going to be safe until they are turned back into two-way roads. Even if traffic is lessened, people are still going to fly down those streets at 45 mph (maybe more so with less traffic). If turning those back into two-way streets is ultimately one of the goals, why not start planning for that now (or at least once funding is secured for the EEC)? My fear is that the EEC will be built a few years from now, then the City will get around to doing a study on the north/south streets a few years later...it'll take years to plan, secure funding, and make the improvements and before you know it 15-20 years have passed and those streets will still be mini-freeways despite this beautiful new EEC.

3. Local access to East Durham. This was outlined well in Kevin's post, but it should be reiterated: if you're going to smack a new highway in East Durham, at least give East Durhamites access to it (and to the traffic that could support their businesses). The fact that NCDOT is only now starting to mull over the idea is ridiculous.

This thing is probably going to be built. Hopefully it will be done the right way. But please don't belittle the legitimate concerns of nearby citizens.

Greg Garneau

Went to the presentation yesterday and saw the design proposals to upgrade local streets. While the addition of sidewalks, crosswalks and (hopefully) pedestrian signals -- where currently there are none -- is a good start -- a lot more thinking should be done about how to make the entire area safer for pedestrians (especially transit users and children using school buses). You do not have to be an expert to see that the design is all about moving the largest number of motor vehicles through the area at the highest possible speeds (through some of the most dangerous intersections in the County).

But the multi-lane designs (on Holloway St. - Hwy 98) bottleneck to one lane each way not 100 feet outside of the design area and the can is literally kicked down the road toward the City as a result. NCDOT's projections for average traffic volume on Holloway are projected to rise from 14,000 to "only" 17,000 plus by 2035 -- so here is an already troubled urban corridor where the motor traffic is projected to rise. Only a 21% increase over 25 years? Averages are deceptive -- the bulk of the traffic is created during the morning and evening commute. Lower actual motor vehicle speeds through pedestrian corridors make for much safer walking -- so potential gridlock at Raynor/Holloway/Miami is an unintended but beneficial outcome.

What did I miss in the presentation that will clear this up?

Todd Patton

@ Erik,
I would call this new found opposition to EEC curious for a number of reasons, including:

-The road has been on the planning books for decades. The vast majority of local comments have been in favor of building it for years, elected officials have been united in making it #1 on the TIP Priority List for at least a decade, and the only thing that has kept it from being built is a lack of funds. It took a local bill (with a united local delegation) in the NC General Assembly to make the EEC eligible for "loop" funding. No one should be surprised to see it coming.

-Despite your apparent disdain for these "beautiful new highways", this is the only effective way to remove through traffic from crosstown routes. Neighborhoods along Duke/Gregson, Roxboro/Mangum, Alston, and even Miami Blvd will all benefit from a reduction in traffic. That's why there is widespread support for the EEC.

As far as improvements to those north/south streets goes, you are probably right that it will take 15-20 years before anything substantial is done to them. But it won't be for a lack of planning - there's plenty of time for that. The problem is a lack of money. Heck, Chapel Hill Road is supposed to be getting bike lanes from Garrett Road to 15-501 in Chapel Hill starting next year, and I know for a fact that has been in the planning stages since 1993. Alston Ave has been in the planing stages for at least that long, too. So 20 years is about right for Duke/Gregson. Money will be a problem as long as Congress allows the federal gas tax to remain where it has been since 1993 - 18 cents a gallon - and does nothing else to improve funding.

And I would repeat what I said in my original post. Taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for an additional interchange so that a land speculator can cash in. This area already has access to the freeway at Briggs Ave and Ellis Rd, and to US 70 at Holloway Street. If Borden wants a multimillion dollar interchange, they should step up and pay for it. If additional transportation dollars are spent to serve the Borden property, that is money that will be taken away from some other local transportation project that has been waiting in line for years to be funded.

Todd Patton

A note on the Alston Avenue widening:
The Alston Ave widening as proposed is only half the overall planned project for Alston Ave. Durham has long had the Alston Avenue Extension in the plans, and even included partial funding for it in the 1995 bond issue. This new street would extend from the northern end of the current NCDOT Alston Ave project northward on a new route to the Roxboro St/Old Oxford Road intersection, potentially taking traffic off of Roxboro St. The I-85 bridges at Camden Ave were built to accommodate the ROW for the Alston Ave Extension, but the 1995 bond money for Alston Ave Ext was shifted to pay for widening Fayetteville Road, and the Alston Ave Ext remains just a dotted line on the city maps due to a lack of funding and changing priorities.

Erik Landfried

@Todd:

Maybe we have different definitions of the phrase "new found". This criticism did not just pop up in March. In fact, I think Kevin's post is quite misleading in a number of ways - all of the criticism mentioned has existed since the East End Connector was suddenly thrust to the forefront after the Eno Drive project was defeated. Perhaps this was the first some have become aware of it, but it's certainly not new.

I was part of a team of students that worked with residents in Hayestown and other parts of East Durham during the Spring of 2007. Concerns about the project probably started at least a year before that. That's four years ago. Pastor Williams was one of the people we worked with and many of the concerns he expressed in March, he was expressing three years ago as well.

If you still feel four years is "new found", then we can have a separate discussion of how much local residents and businesses should have been aware of a road project that had been unfunded for 48 years when it was suddenly brought back to life.

Kevin Davis

@Erik -- just to be clear, my point was not that objection was new. I note in here that Williams is a "long-time nemesis" of the EEC, something we've reported on going back to '07.

My point was that the DCABP has not taken a stand on the EEC before that I'm aware of -- this was previously just from Williams, by and large. And, that local small business owners (including at least a couple who were in favor of the EEC originally) are now raising concerns about the road over local access issues.

No, the objections from the local community are not new. OTOH, I do maintain that there's nowhere *less* populated to run this road.

GreenLantern

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one" If not here, then where? If not now, then when?

Erik Landfried

You're right "GreenLantern." It's as simple as that. Thank you for helping me see the light.

barry

I "worked" with Pastor Williams on the East End Connector ad hoc committee, chartered by the City Council 3 years ago, for a very long time. The committee's work was, according to Council, meant to ensure that the EEC was built with the least impact to the residential community that it would be nearest, and to maximize the potential for economic growth in the area it would pass through.

Pastor Williams was either completely incapable of grasping what the committee's charge was, or willfully disingenuous throughout the 3 years that we met in attempting to divert the committee into an ongoing debate about whether or not the project should be built at all.

Many members of the community have worked very hard to ensure that the EEC's construction will not have the same impact on residential communities as did NC 147, and I believe we have succeeded in that. It's always hard to predict what the economic impact of such a project will be. Would we consider it successful if US 70 near Miami Blvd. looks like US 15-501 near I-40 in 10 years? Who knows what will happen. During my time on the committee, I consistently pushed for pedestrian and bus improvements in the surrounding area, and for design changes that would increase access while minimizing impact. After a certain point, though, it's hard to say what effect incremental changes will eventually have.

One additional point to make - Kevin indicates that there are about 16 residences that will be bought out and demolished to make room for the EEC. As I recall, half or more of those were built after 2001, as rental investments owned by people who do not live in Durham, and the owners should have had the full knowledge that the EEC was on the table. It's entirely possible that they built knowing the houses would be purchased by the NCDOT eventually, anyway.

Doug Roach

We're new to the region and have heretofore not been privy to the vagaries of "planning" for major community-impactive projects as done in this region.
I can only suggest that this EEC business seems wholly typical of the process at several other places we've been.
There are forward-thinking ideas that may well benefit people in the local community. There are several people who would aspire to make themselves players in the big game who really have no business playing as they haven't the ante and there are the immutable forces of "progress" who think that ANY change to the staus-quo is an improvement no matter who it impacts.
We see the same scenario shaping up in the 751/Jordan Lake "development".
Here, it seems to me, the Rev. Williams and his group should be permitted to make their objections and if they are judged legitimate by the NCDOT then they should have a place at the planning table.
Similarly, if Mr. Borden and his investors are judged to be serious and legitimate in their capacity to DELIVER on the speculative nature of their industrial park, then they too should be allowed access to the process. I would naturally assume that if they wish to have some consideration such as a multi-million dollar ramp to their front gate, they would naturally be willing to forego compensation for the land it will require to accomplish such. If they want to play, let them ante up.
Based upon the scale of this project, it seems to me that the number of residences and businesses impacted has been kept to a minimum. Yeah, there are issues about access that can and certainly SHOULD be addressed in the planning process to come but for Rev. Williams, Dr. Allison and the DCABP to expect to have essential "veto-power" over such an appently vital community project seems somewhat disingenuous.
After all... do they represent the community or simply their own self-aggrandizing interests? Given Dr. Allison's stated position that, "...she does not speak to the news media..." and then to not respond to a subsequent email, it's difficult to presume that she is aware of the scope of this project and it's projected impact. Either that or she may simply be rude. Either way, if she expects to have impact upon a major public project by allegedly representing a portion of the affected community, she needs to respond appropriately.

Laura

"A cemetery will be impacted but no graves will need to be moved--"

interesting since they were moving vaults yesterday????

Laura

DISREGARD previous post--wrong project

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