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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for July 30, 2010

East End Connector passes NCDOT prioritization hurdle, on track for fall 2013 start

Eec_mapWe've talked here before about how the NCDOT's reshuffling of Urban Loop program priorities has had Durham and other communities in NC waiting with bated breath to find out how their beltway, bypass and connector projects would do.

Durham, as you'll recall, struggled for more than a decade with the legacy of Eno Drive, a project killed in the early 2000s and replaced with the East End Connector and Northern Durham Parkway efforts, among others. 

That toe-scuffing cost the Bull City time as communities like Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh were able to move ahead with their costly (and much-needed) beltways.

NCDOT's just released its long-anticipated revised prioritization schedule for the Urban Loop program -- and in what's a big sigh of relief for local officials, transportation planners and residents, our fifty-years-in-the-making loop came in fourth statewide among construction-ready projects (sixth overall), keeping a fall 2013 construction start for the roadway.

A few years back, funding for the East End Connector -- which will connect the Durham Freeway north of Ellis Road with US 70, creating an all-freeway link between I-85, RTP, and eventually US 1 in Apex/Holly Springs, and which has been rechristened by some regional advocates as the Triangle Connector -- finally made it to DOT's work list in the onetime political prioritization process.

Irony of ironies: Bev Perdue, in a terrific move objectively, has been trying to clean up the politics out of NCDOT, leading loop projects including the EEC to go through an objective prioritization review anew.

And certainly, that's led to worries over whether the EEC would stay on track.

Fear not, Durham: the project ended up ranking sixth state-wide out of twenty-one Urban Loop efforts -- and as the H-S notes, it actually ranks #4 among non-toll road, construction ready efforts. (And it ranks one slot ahead of the Eastern Wake Freeway future segment of NC 540 around Raleigh, though that will eventually be a toll road when built.)

The draft proposal released by NCDOT calls for acquisition of right-of-way for the East End Connector to kick off in fiscal year 2012, with construction actually beginning in the fall of 2013.

The EEC would be bypassed in the construction schedule by Fayetteville's I-295 loop, likely prioritized we'd assume given the growth of Ft. Bragg and the relating economic needs of the military community in the Sandhills. Wilmington's I-140 loop extension would also get under construction just ahead of the EEC.

Transportation officials from Durham and the local MPO, like their colleagues statewide, were offered a chance to give feedback to the prioritization mechanisms and formulas that NCDOT used to rank projects.

And by all accounts we've heard at BCR, they buckled down to the task, offering important considerations that made the case for why a project like the East End Connector mattered so much for connectivity -- considerations that couldn't have hurt, and most likely significantly helped, the success of the East End Connector in its latest review round.

Interestingly, the EEC isn't the only Durham project to do well in the rankings.

The #2 project overall? A widening of Roxboro Rd. from its intersection with Duke St. to Goodwin Rd. near Northern High School.

If you've been around NoDur at rush hour, you know how traffic snakes slowly along that part of town. But the H-S notes that that $30m project has plenty of prep work to do before being at a construction-ready stage.

The widening of I-85 north of US 70 to Red Mill Rd. came in #8 on the state's list -- though again not at a readiness point to be in line for state dollars at present.

The Northern Durham Parkway, meanwhile, fell out near the bottom of the list.

The biggest complaints of the process so far are coming from Winston-Salem, where a northern loop route for I-40 ranked last out of the 21 projects based on its pricetag. W-S had been ready to roll on their beltway in the 1990s, but lawsuits from project opponents that ran until just this spring cost them their place in line.

A shout-out to our friends at The Dash -- hey, we feel your pain. Struggles and disagreements hurt our timeline, too.

But don't think you've been waiting longer than Durham has. 'Cos you haven't.

Hey, the NCTA can build you a neat-o, all-electronic toll road. We're getting one here in Durham County. Why don't y'all give it a try?

(For more on the East End Connector, search the BCR archives.)


Todd Patton

Seeing Durham's projects rise to the top of the NCDOT list has been a long time coming.
However, it is surprising to see Roxboro St at #2 on the statewide list - maybe our local officials will consider moving it up the local priority list now. It has been buried behind the NE Durham loop and the US 70 and I-85 upgrades on the local TIP priority list for years, despite daily backups at the Roxboro/Latta/Infinity intersection that stretch for a mile almost every workday.

Since the loop funding was started in 1989, Durham has waited 20 years for a project to be funded while Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Fayetteville, and Wilmington got billions of dollars worth of projects built. Heck, even Sanford and Pittsboro got loops this decade while we waited for money for the EEC.

Winston-Salem may have a legitimate beef about their project, but it costs $840 million - 4 times the EEC and Roxboro St combined. It's Durham's turn for funding. I just hope the priority list holds long enough for Durham's projects to get built.

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