Wine Authorities' Gross to bring burgers, beers to downtown Durham in new venture
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 24, 2010

Downtown repaving brings under-the-asphalt surprises -- and a road diet that bicyclists welcome

Repaving an old road, NCDOT officials note, is kind of like tearing out the sheetrock in an older house. You're never entirely sure what you're going to find until you actually dig into the framing.

So too goes the at-times rim-rattling story of downtown's main thoroughfares, state-maintained streets like Mangum, Roxboro, University Dr./Lakewood Ave., and Chapel Hill St./Kent St.

At issue: stimulus-funded road paving work that's annoyed some downtown commuters and residents, even as it brings repaving to streets very much in need of resurfacing.

These streets became candidates for ARRA dollars at the City's request, the NCDOT notes, opening the door to smooth riding... once the roads get finished, that is. 

The project's left some downtown streets in milled condition for longer than some have desired while under-the-surface issues were getting resolved. 

Resident and local official concerns have been met with what one local official noted was a high level of attention, notably with a presentation by Division Engineer Wally Bowman before the City Council at their August 2 meeting and a similar reassurance scheduled to reach County Commissioners tonight.

The Herald-Sun reported earlier this month that the ongoing work might not be done by the mid-September project completion date, but NCDOT officials noted in a press release late last week that they are currently on-track to complete by the September 16 red-letter day initially agreed to with Rea Contracting.

One thing that residents have started noticing: fewer lanes for vehicular traffic and more for bicycles, something that's part of ongoing "road diet" efforts initiated by the City's transportation department in accordance with longstanding plans.

Lakewood/University is now one lane in either direction along the Forest Hills shopping center frontage, for instance, while Chapel Hill St. is similarly one-laned from the railroad overpass to NC 147.

In both areas, shared lane markings and bicycle lanes are being added to make the roads more accessible for two-wheeled, human-powered vehicles -- and to make sure drivers are aware of the change.

Below, NCDOT's full press release in full, by resident engineer Chad Hinnant.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We have asked the City of Durham to pass along to the community list servs an update on the status of the downtown street resurfacing project, as well as a full explanation of why this project has taken longer than we had hoped to complete.

Resurfacing in urban areas certainly has its challenges and delays are inherent to this type of work, especially when utilities are located in our streets. To make things worse, milling and deep patching uncovers much more than a simple resurfacing project. 

It is much like renovating an old house - once you remove wall board on the interior walls and siding of exterior walls, you normally have repairs with plumbing, electrical wires, and rotten wood that you never knew about.  Milling, patching, and resurfacing of city streets is no different. As issues arise we are obligated to investigate, come up with a repair, and often times, negotiate prices with the contractor for work that was not included in the original contract.  

We are aware of the impacts to the travelling public and communicate with our contractor on a regular basis to attempt to quickly move the project along. We certainly understand the frustration and concern of Durham motorists and business owners and want to assure you that we are working diligently to get this project completed by the original September 16th deadline.

However, we implore Durham motorists and business owners to not lose sight that the scope of the work has changed on some of the roads that are no fault of the contractor or the NCDOT. These challenges have added significant, additional work to the project and may push our contractor past our original deadline date of September 16th. We ask for your continued patience and understanding as we work to dramatically improve these major thoroughfares, which will ultimately be a huge benefit for motorists and the business owners along these streets.

In addition, we at the NCDOT, feel very fortunate that we had the necessary funding in these tough economic times to resurface these vital Durham roads that were very high on the City of Durham's list, rather than go through another winter of patching potholes. The downtown resurfacing project is not the only NCDOT resurfacing project currently underway in Durham that we are pushing toward completion before the 2010 Paving Season ends. While we understand these multiple resurfacing projects add temporary inconveniences for motorists and business owners, we know the final product will be one that Durham residents can be proud of.

As a quick recap on the downtown resurfacing project, late last fall the NCDOT, at the City of Durham’s request, initiated a federal stimulus (ARRA funding) project to resurface US 15/501 Business South (Mangum Street) from NC 98 (Holloway Street to US 15/501 Business (Lakewood Avenue); US 15/501 Business North (Roxboro Street) from US 15/501 Bus. (Lakewood Avenue) to N.C. Highway 98 (Holloway St); US 15/501 Business (Lakewood Avenue & University Drive) from U.S. 15/501 North (Roxboro Street) to SR 1361 (Vickers Avenue); SR 1127 (Chapel Hill Street) from Great Jones to Kent Street; and SR 1127 (Kent Street) from West Chapel Hill Street to Morehead Avenue

The contract includes milling and resurfacing on all of the above routes.  There are manhole and meter/valve box adjustments, signal loop replacements, and patching included in the contract as well. 

The NCDOT’s contractor (Rea Contracting) started work on this project on May 20 and they have 120 days (September 16) to complete the project.  Also, the contractor is restricted from working on all streets Monday - Friday between the hours of 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. This is to ensure that morning and evening “commute times” are not further delayed by our efforts to resurface these streets.

From the beginning, our contractor has planned to have the streets milled and patched, starting with Roxboro and Mangum Streets, before initiating any resurfacing.  Since the contract has only 2.9 miles of work over five streets, it was important to mill and patch far enough ahead of the paving crew, so that the paving crew could pave in a continuous manner.  

However, along the way, we have encountered three large sinkholes; too-shallow asphalt directly on top of stone; abandoned air release valves with trapped water that flooded our sub-grade; and a failed sewer line that impacted our efforts.  Again, as we encountered these problems, we worked quickly to investigate, figure out the necessary repair solution, and continue along with the project.

In addition to the above issues,  there have been numerous meetings with County staff to discuss the project schedule and the pavement cuts needed for utilities and stormwater as part of the Justice Building construction as well as conversations with City staff to review recommended pavement marking changes along some of these routes.  As part of the resurfacing project, the City requested that portions of Chapel Hill Street and University Drive/Lakewood Avenue be restriped to provide better accommodation of bicycles, as recommended by the Durham Comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan. Bike lanes and shared lane markings are being placed on these streets. City staff has prepared traffic analyses showing that these streets will operate at an acceptable level of service with the revisions.

The good news is that, despite these unanticipated project setbacks, we are making progress and hope to finish this project by September 16th as originally planned. Paving work is now completed on Lakewood Avenue and University Drive and the majority of the paving work is also now completed on Chapel Hill and Kent Streets. We anticipate that the repairs needed on Roxboro and Mangum Streets will begin within one week and the paving will shortly follow. Again, the project completion date may move due to the above-mentioned setbacks, but if that’s the case, we will let you know since we plan to continue to provide regular updates to you via this list serv about the status of this project as we work toward completion.  We want to make sure you are aware of our progress and any changes in our plans that may arise moving forward. 

Thank you for the opportunity to explain this project in more detail and for your continued patience as we work to make better roads for Durham. 

Comments

Marcos

I love the new paving with plenty bike lanes, but when are the sidewalks going to come to University Blvd?

Major Taylor

Biked University/Lakewood from Forest Hills into downtown the other day. Impressed by the bike lane and the new pavement! So smooth. Thanks to all involved who made it happen. Makes the other improvements worth waiting for..

Andrew Edmonds

It seems to me that the new configuration of the University Drive/S Duke Street intersection may make it easier eventually to revert the latter to bidirectional traffic. I think you could restripe South Duke right now as far north as Morehead Ave without causing any congestion.

I don't suppose the City had that on their minds when they asked the NCDOT to change the lanes around, though. Dale McKeel or anybody else want to weign in?

Todd T.

Thanks to everyone working on the research/planning/implementation of these projects.

For any bicyclists reading this who are new to town , I'd like to suggest trying the following route between "downtown 5-points" and destinations to the WSW (Lakewood neighborhoods, and town of Chapel Hill):

* Note: This route is VERY FLAT the whole way because it sits on the old pre-Durham and likely pre-European geographic ridgeline path that connects our area to points WSW. Sections of this route have had their names changed and traffic flow majorly rearranged, but it's easy to find the way if you just always take the route that keeps the high ground. You can also navigate at intersections by looking where the rroads or fronting businesses;residence positioned along a curve instead of today's "squared for cars" configuration.

Here's the route:
* Start at the intersection of ChSt. and Main St. and head west on WChSTREET towards the town/city of Chapel Hill
* Take a left onto what is now called Kent St., following the slow curve of the road that sits on top of the old trolley rails
* Ride by the cemetery
* At the intersection with Moreheard take a right, again following the slow curve that the trolley took
* Likewise, then the slow left onto Chapel Hill Road
* Ride by Shoppes of Lakewood (today dominated by the Food Lion, formerly "Lakewood Amusement Park")
* Eventually, you'll take follow the curve as the route becomes renamed to University Dr. for a very short while before it turns back into "Old Chapel Hill Road".

Todd T

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