Orange County

Solution to traffic puzzle stands between Chapel Hill and future Wegmans Food Market

The main entrance to a planned Wegmans Food Markets store on Old Durham Road would enter from a new roundabout just west of Cooper Street. The project includes a 130,000-square-foot store with up to 750 parking spaces in two lots.
The main entrance to a planned Wegmans Food Markets store on Old Durham Road would enter from a new roundabout just west of Cooper Street. The project includes a 130,000-square-foot store with up to 750 parking spaces in two lots. Contributed

Traffic may be the biggest speed bump that a developer could face in bringing a Wegmans Food Market to the U.S. 15-501 corridor.

The $30 million Wegmans project, if approved, would replace the 14.7-acre Performance AutoMall, which will be moved to the Southpoint Auto Mall near The Streets at Southpoint mall. The store is one of four Wegmans Food Markets proposed for Chapel Hill, Cary and Raleigh.

The public hearing held this week will continue Oct. 25, when the Chapel Hill Town Council could make a decision.

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Chapel Hill and Orange County have offered to use new tax revenues to pay Wegmans a $4 million incentive if the company creates 185 full-time jobs and 413 part-time jobs over five years and meets annual property and sales tax revenue goals. The project could bring in over $366,000 in property taxes and up to $1.5 million in sales taxes each year.

A traffic study estimates the 130,000-square-foot grocery store could add 3,200 more cars to surrounding streets. About two-thirds would come from Chapel Hill, passers-by or the surrounding area, development officials said Wednesday. The rest would be westbound from Interstate 40 or Durham, they said.

The existing plan would route all traffic through two driveways on Old Durham Road, one located on a future roundabout. More turn lanes would be added at Old Durham Road and U.S. 15-501, and a longer median would block cross-traffic at Old Durham Road and Scarlett Drive.

The plan calls for directing westbound traffic on U.S. 15-501 left onto Lakeview Road, past the Red Roof Inn, and then right on Old Durham Road.

That intersection could be tricky, since drivers now wait several minutes to turn left when Old Durham Road is busy. However, the N.C. Department of Transportation won’t add a traffic light until the intersection meets specific standards, NCDOT engineer Chuck Edwards said. Another traffic study could be done after Wegmans opens to show that a traffic light is justified, he said. Wegmans would pay the town $150,000 toward any future traffic upgrades.

Council member Ed Harrison advised keeping a closer eye on Lakeview Road, too, since that road was not designed for heavy traffic.

The hope remains that Wegmans’ main entrance could be on a service road that intersects with Eastowne Drive and U.S. 15-501, but efforts to reach a deal on that with the State Employees Credit Union have failed, officials said.

The road would remain open to SECU and Hardees traffic, however, forcing Wegmans shoppers to circle back to the highway and find another way to the store or cut through the Hardees parking lot and try to turn left.

Visible signs will be important to drivers who may be unfamiliar with the area, Council member Michael Parker said, noting confusion can cause accidents.

“I really think there needs to be some thought given to working in cooperation with NCDOT and anyone else to develop a really good, comprehensive signage plan for this area to make sure that people can really figure out where they need to go and where they shouldn’t be going at a broader array of intersections than you’re currently thinking about,” he said.

Residents who spoke didn’t have issues with Wegmans but about the potential for worse traffic. They’ve had disruptions from construction – at Ephesus Church Road and Fordham Boulevard, Old Durham Road and U.S. 15-501, and now for bike lanes – for a long time, Doris Smith said.

“There are a lot of people who live in that neighborhood. It’s not a big, high-class neighborhood; it’s little pockets of ordinary people,” she said. “I would like to know who on the council is going to be thinking about us and the impact on us with all the decision that have to be made between now and October.”

Town staff and the developer are “very sensitive” to the potential effects on neighborhood traffic, said Judy Johnson, the town’s interim operations manager. Drivers already use small, narrow neighborhood streets to avoid Old Durham Road, sometimes exceeding the posted speed limit and ignoring stop signs.

Other Wegmans project issues considered by the Town Council Wednesday included:

▪  Landscaping: Smaller green buffers than required – although more than exists now along U.S. 15-501 – so that passers-by can see the store. Council member Sally Greene said a landscaping buffer similar to what’s along Fordham Boulevard at University Place “is the right way to go.” Council member Donna Bell asked for larger trees than planned.

▪  Sustainability: Council members want Wegmans to add solar rooftops – they might, project manager Steve Leaty said – and more details about stormwater plans. The site – now about 78 percent impervious surfaces, such as roofs and pavement – could be closer to 80 percent.

▪  Parking: The developer is seeking 750 parking spaces – 87 more than town rules allow.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Brunch bill

The Town Council voted Wednesday to allow retail stores to sell alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

The council voted over the summer to allow bars and restaurants to make earlier sales but had delayed the vote on store sales to give the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce the Negative Impacts of High Risk Drinking time to weigh in. Only one person – Eugene Farrar, a write-in candidate for Chapel Hill mayor – spoke against allowing retail sales.