Connector’s start in sight

Mar. 24, 2014 @ 06:16 PM

When the city of Durham first contemplated an East End Connector, U. S. soldiers were fighting in Vietnam.

Over the decades, the project has been fiercely debated, thought and rethought, and elbowed its way through the state Department of Transportation’s Byzantine and shifting priority-setting processes. At times, it has moved forward only to slip back.

As it has emerged as a top priority in recent years, residents and city planners have grown ever more optimistic – but still fretting over every possible bump that could set it back.

So it was welcome news last week when DOT officials assured that, even if a bit behind schedule, the department is on track to launch construction later this year.

The department intends to select contractors in September – a delay from original plans to do so next month, but a delay that actually will let other necessary steps take place. And if contracts are awarded then, work should begin in November.

Wally Bowman, chief engineer for DOT’s division 5, reaffirmed that the project will not get entangled in a new prioritization process at the department.  As long as the department takes bids by July 1 next year, the project is grandfathered.

“That’s the good news for us,” Bowman told The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg. “This project is funded.”

The project has long been seen as alleviating congestion on north-south roads. Residents in neighborhoods along those roads, especially in Old North Durham, have been especially vocal in complaining about heavy, fast-moving traffic.

The 3.6-mile East End Connector, according to the city’s website on the project, “will improve connectivity between the Durham Freeway (NC 147) and US 70, improve access to major employment centers such as Research Triangle Park, reduce traffic growth on local streets such as Duke Street, Gregson Street, Mangum Street, Roxboro Street, Alston Avenue, and Avondale Drive, and supports development in east Durham.”

Those problems, absent the new connector, DOT notes on its website, will only get worse:

“Over the next 25 years, traffic volumes are estimated to increase significantly and without these changes additional cut-through traffic may affect local streets and communities in the area.”

The new road will help move “people and goods from the north and east side of the community to major employment and retail centers located on the south side of the county” and should increase safety on the now-clogged streets on the east side of the city.

Durham’s retort to a Winston-Salem business leader’s complaint when a new ranking system benefited the East End Connector but dropped a favored Winston-Salem project down the list underscored the long wait for this project.

"We have been waiting longer for our beltway than any other community," the Journal quoted Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson as saying.
Durham officials noted the East End Connector has figured in local road planning since the 1960s.
"I don't think they've been waiting 50 years," Mark Ahrendsen, Durham’s transportation director, said.

We are glad to be reassured the wait is almost over.