Big changes could transform the town’s critical South Churton Street corridor over the next decade, giving people more ways to get around, visit and live in Hillsborough — instead of sitting in traffic.
The town has been working with the N.C. Department of Transportation for years on a plan for improving Churton Street, which connects the town’s commercial strip and its historic downtown. Traffic slows to a crawl at least twice a day during the week, as commuters drive north to rural homes or south to Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
The plan would expand South Churton Street to four lanes with center turn lanes, and add bike lanes and sidewalks from Interstate 40 to Orange Grove Road. A separate project would update the Interstate 85 interchange at South Churton Street.
The road widening won’t fix problems downtown, but it and other projects will help bring changes envisioned in a 2006 plan for the town’s commercial strip, said Margaret Hauth, planning director and assistant town manager.
“We want it to be a commercial corridor, but we also want it where people can safely walk and bike if they choose to,” Hauth said.
Planners have acknowledged traffic still could bottleneck at the Eno River Bridge, but historic homes and buildings only leave enough room for two lanes through downtown. (A plan to build a bypass around downtown using Elizabeth Brady Road was dropped in 2010.)
“You’re not going to see the buildings come right up to the edge of Churton Street,” Hauth said, noting it won’t look like the East 54 development in Chapel Hill. “We want a little bit more green space, push the buildings back a little bit, get people onto the site, and then the sites themselves will look more urban and be more interconnected.”
The public will get its first look at the plan Tuesday, Jan. 8, during a drop-in meeting at Hillsborough’s Town Hall Annex board room on East Corbin Street. Materials also are at www.ncdot.gov/news/public-meetings, although Hauth said the information is very preliminary.
Also this month, the Hillsborough Town Board could begin the process of designing and building an $8.1 million Amtrak station at South Churton and Orange Grove streets.
The Amtrak station is a long-awaited part of the Orange County Bus and Rail Plan that would bring riders on the Charlotte-to-Raleigh passenger rail line to Hillsborough and to other parts of the county via local buses.
Meanwhile, a project at Orange Grove Road would create a new entrance for the future 1,126-unit Collins Ridge subdivision and provide access to the station.
The new Orange Grove Street Extension also would divert some traffic that now turns onto U.S. 70A from Churton Street. It would route traffic back onto U.S. 70A between Sports Endeavors and Wilmore Electronics.
Traffic heading east from the Churton Street-U.S. 70A intersection would be diverted briefly onto the new road before reconnecting with U.S. 70A. Affected residents would retain access to their homes via a limited-access road.
The goal, Hauth said, is to get people on U.S. 70A to use the new route and reduce the number of cars waiting to turn downtown at the Churton Street stoplight.
“It’s not perfect, and at the end of the day, we may say it’s not worth it, but we’re trying to improve some of the connections and make a more grid-like road network south of the river to give people more travel options,” Hauth said. “If there’s only one way to go, then everybody has to go that way.”
Meanwhile, work is underway at the future Collins Ridge subdivision and the site of the Amtrak station. The station would replace the HYAA ballfields just off South Churton Street.
The Town Board signed an agreement in October for how the $8.1 million station would be funded, built and managed. NCDOT has agreed pay most of the cost, with GoTriangle picking up $686,000 for engineering and project work — from Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan money — and the town paying $34,000, plus any cost overruns.
The town has five years to plan and build the station, which it also would manage and maintain. The town board could start discussing the future of the 20-acre station area in January, Hauth said. A 2015 conceptual design that includes civic, commercial and residential uses, including police and fire stations, could start that discussion, she said.
“I really want it to be the main topic for the workshop,” Hauth said. “Now that we have the funding agreement in place, and we can actually start, what is it that we want to do and how do we want to do it?”
Collins Ridge and Daniel Boone Village
Whatever is built will come long after people move into the 138-acre Collins Ridge development behind the Daniel Boone Village. Crews already have started ground work and could begin construction once the town staff finishes reviewing first-phase plans: 326 apartments, 152 townhouses and 196 single-family homes, plus a community center and a publicly accessible walking trail on 100 acres.
The developer would like to start building as early as July, but that depends on the weather, Hauth said.
Property owner Collins Ridge Landco LLC could add another 364 homes, parks and more green space later, and also has set aside land for nonprofit housing provider CASA to build 88 affordable-housing units.
A second entrance to Collins Ridge is planned at the Daniel Boone Village.
The Collins Ridge partners bought the village in September. Owners of the 23-acre Boone Square shopping center — once part of the Daniel Boone Village — did not return a call seeking comment about that parcel’s future.
The village, built in the 1960s, once offered a pioneer-themed amusement park, train rides, a skating rink and camping. Over the years, that was replaced by antique stores, shops and restaurants. The village’s new owners have not shared their plans for the roughly 57-acre property, but they have given the remaining tenants until March 4 to move.
Mexican restaurant Pueblo Viejo is moving across Churton Street to the former Jimmy’s Famous Hot Dogs, which closed in December. Pueblo Viejo’s owners are renovating the new space but have not decided whether to close before the move, an employee said. The new restaurant would be beside the Hardee’s restaurant at the corner of I-85 and Churton Street.
The Churton Street corridor is wide enough to add travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks in most places, but construction could affect some businesses, including Capital Ford, Triangle Visions Optometry and the Gro-Smart store.
An NCDOT map also shows the widened road encroaching on Pueblo Viejo’s future front lawn and on the Hardee’s parking lot and lawn next door. A retaining wall is proposed in front of both businesses and a neighboring AutoZone store.
Hardee’s franchise operator Boddie-Noell Enterprises doesn’t have much information yet about proposed engineering work or future construction involving the Hillsborough location, spokesman Rick Rountree said.
“However, we’ve found that until a project has gone through competing DOT priorities, is funded and the necessary property is acquired, there’s not much point to make specific plans,” Rountree said.
Once the street is expanded, NCDOT plans to update the Interstate 85 interchange at N.C. 86 near Walmart. The long-term plan is to widen I-85 to six lanes from the Orange Grove Road overpass to the Durham County line.
The N.C. Department of Transportation and the town of Hillsborough will hold a public meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Town Hall Annex board room, 105 E. Corbin St. in Hillsborough.
The meeting addresses two pending road projects: widening South Churton Street from Interstate 40 to Orange Grove Road and extending Orange Grove Street to U.S. 70A.
Auxiliary aids and other disability services can be arranged in advance with Samantha Borges, NCDOT environmental analysis unit, at 919-707-6115 or email@example.com. Interpretive services also are available for those who do not speak English, or have a limited ability to read, speak or understand English, by calling 800-481-6494.
Comments about the projects also can be made via phone, email or mail by Jan. 25. Contact NCDOT project manager Gene Tarascio at 1582 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1582, 919-707-6046, or firstname.lastname@example.org; or project consultant Teresa Gresham at 421 Fayetteville St., Suite 600, Raleigh, NC 27601, 919-677-2194, or email@example.com.