Orange County

Relief down the road for I-40, I-85 drivers if draft plan approved

Morning commuters travel Interstate 85 between Durham and Hillsborough on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. A North Carolina Department of Transportation plan to widen the highway from four to six lanes could happen in 2027, depending on local needs and available funding.
Morning commuters travel Interstate 85 between Durham and Hillsborough on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. A North Carolina Department of Transportation plan to widen the highway from four to six lanes could happen in 2027, depending on local needs and available funding.

Commuters could spend several more years waiting in traffic to see Interstate 40 and Interstate 85 get more lanes in Orange County.

The interstates merge into eight lanes just outside of Greensboro, diverging just inside the Orange County line into separate, four-lane highways. The bottleneck can bring cars to a standstill during peak hours or emergencies.

Regional traffic forecasts show between 50,000 and 53,000 vehicles a day will crowd the I-85 corridor in 2040 from the I-85/I-40 split to the Durham County line. That’s roughly 10,000 to 15,000 more vehicles than were counted in 2015.

Numbers are higher on I-40, where regional forecasts show 71,000 to 94,000 vehicles in 2040 from the I-85/I-40 split to U.S. 15-501 in Durham. That’s 11,000 to 34,000 more vehicles than traveled the I-40 corridor in 2015.

The longtime plan is to widen both highways to six lanes, and both now are listed in the Draft 2018-2027 State Transportation Improvement Program. The Board of Transportation could approve the 10-year plan in August.

NCDOT Division 7 Engineer Mike Mills noted it’s tentatively based on local priorities, with a high potential for projects more than a few years away to be affected by available funding. Division 7 encompasses Orange, Alamance, Guilford, Caswell and Rockingham counties.

“Once complete, these projects will improve the transportation system by improving safety, reducing congestion, and enhancing economic development by creating job opportunities throughout the Piedmont Triad region,” Division 7 board member Michael Fox said.

The proposed plan would start I-40 construction in 2023-24, followed by I-85 construction in 2027. That work also could include a redesigned interchange at I-85 and U.S. 70.

Other Orange County projects in the 10-year plan include:

Happening now

▪ Chapel Hill: Work started this year to add 5-foot sidewalks, 5-foot bike lanes and other amenities along Old Chapel Hill Road, from Pope Road in Chapel Hill to Garrett Road in Durham. The next phase of the $7.3 million project – along Old Durham Road from Pope Road to U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill – could begin next summer. It also will add a roundabout at the intersection of Pope and Old Durham roads.

▪ Downtown Hillsborough: NCDOT and town crews are revamping Churton Street through the heart of Hillsborough’s historic district with handicap accessible curb ramps, crosswalks, wider sidewalks and bus stops to better serve pedestrians. On-street parking will be removed, and new street trees will be planted.

Crews will return when the work is complete to stamp a brick pattern in the crosswalks where Churton Street crosses Nash and Kollock Street, Margaret Lane, and King and Tryon streets; and to install benches, bike racks, and trash and recycling bins.

Coming soon

▪ Bennett Road: Construction of the $1.2 million roundabout at Bennett and Mt. Carmel Church roads could begin next summer and take up to a year. The plan is expected to improve the flow of traffic and make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate the crowded, often dangerous intersection.

▪ Estes Drive Extension: Work next year could add a $1 million roundabout at Estes Drive Extension and North Greensboro Street in Carrboro. The three-way intersection funnels two primary corridors for drivers heading to and from Chapel Hill and Carrboro, causing major backups during peak hours.

▪ N.C. 54: Crews could add turn lanes and make other improvements next year to the Orange Grove Road intersection about six miles west of Carrboro. More work to make the N.C. 54 corridor between Orange Grove Road and Old Fayetteville Road in Carrboro safer for cyclists and pedestrians is expected by 2022.

▪ Merritt Mill Road/Franklin Street: NCDOT, Carrboro and Chapel Hill officials are considering whether to build a roundabout or upgrade the intersection of Merritt Mill Road, West Franklin Street, East Main Street and Brewer Lane. The final, $1 million project is slated for construction in 2019.

“You’re going to impact some businesses. There’s a church in that area,” Mills said. “So we want to look and see what these impacts will be, and we’re going to meet with the town of Carrboro and the town of Chapel Hill before we get too far along and say this is what we’re coming up with, these are the right-of-way impacts, these are the community impacts, how do you want to proceed?”

In the future

▪ N.C. 86: The N.C. 86 (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) intersection with Eubanks Road and I-40 has needed work for some time, Mills said. Big changes are being planned for 2023-24 to improve the flow of traffic around the Carraway Village mixed-use project now under construction on Eubanks Road. Mills added NCDOT officials also might look at changes to the Whitfield Road area on the north side of the I-40/N.C. 86 interchange.

▪ Churton Street: The plan is to widen Churton Street (Old N.C. 86) in Hillsborough from I-40 to I-85, which would get an upgraded intersection in 2024-26. The N.C. 86 intersection with I-85 at Hampton Pointe could be upgraded in 2024.

▪ Orange Grove Road: An extension across Churton Street could be built in 2023, connecting the road with U.S. 70A in Hillsborough. The work will create one of two entrances to Collins Ridge, a 1,038-unit community that will cover 125 acres behind the Churton Street business strip, from Orange Grove Road to I-85.

▪ N.C. 54: Corridor upgrades are planned from Fordham Boulevard near Glen Lennox east to N.C. 55 in Durham, possibly in the mid-2020s. The anticipated $295 million project could include superstreets in some sections and several upgraded intersections in Chapel Hill.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb