Traffic

Planned southern Durham roundabout riles neighbors

The state will start building a roundabout at Hope Valley Road and University Drive in Durham in October 2018.
The state will start building a roundabout at Hope Valley Road and University Drive in Durham in October 2018. 2018 Map data Google

A new roundabout coming to the intersection of Hope Valley Road and University Drive is generating complaints months before the state even starts building it.

Officials say that the roundabout will improve traffic flow and safety at the intersection, but locals say that it will disrupt the area and hurt property values.

“The idea has come up quite a few times,” said Jim Dunlop, a congestion management engineer at the N.C. Department of Transportation. “Ultimately the city submitted a project request for a roundabout there, and it scored high for prioritization and got funded.”

The NCDOT estimates traffic at the intersection — nearly 19,000 cars a day now — will increase by 16 percent over the next 25 years.

The city first asked the NCDOT to look at a roundabout in 2000 and received approval in 2015. The project is expected to cost $1.5 million and take 18 months.

Ben Upshaw, the design engineer, said the roundabout will handle higher traffic in the future and alleviate congestion at rush hour.

“Durham is growing, and in this case that means more traffic coming through that area," he said. "We need to do something to prepare for that traffic.”

Roundabouts move traffic efficiently, as cars mostly flow freely in the same direction and at a slow speed, Dunlop said. At a signal intersection, cars stop, which can lead to backups.

Roundabouts are also safer than traffic-signal intersections, where drivers sometimes disregard the signal and cause accidents.

In 2018, the NCDOT reported that roundabouts reduced total crashes by 48 percent and reduced fatal crashes in urban areas by 60 percent, compared to signal intersections. When drivers do get into an accident at a roundabout, they are more likely to rear-end someone rather than cause a head-on or T-bone collision at a signal intersection, Upshaw said.

But landowners say construction will impede traffic and cost them money.

“We have 150 children in our preschool, so during the school year we have those parents coming in five days a week,” said Karen Whitaker, pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church. Construction will make it difficult for parents to enter and exit the church grounds.

“If you can’t get into the place, you do away with our congregation,” said Thomas Biggs, chairman of Epworth United Methodist Church’s board. “And we can’t afford that.”

Biggs and Whitaker are also concerned the roundabout will require the church to build a 200-foot retaining wall and remove 35 pine trees on the property, and that the church won’t be fairly compensated.

“The Department of Transportation just values square footage, but they don’t value what impact it does to your property,” Biggs said. “You can value square footage, but you can’t value accessibility.”

The law firm Maxwell, Freeman & Bowman, which will lose some land on property it has leased since 1982, also opposes the project.

“[T]raffic incidents occurring at the intersection have been few and far between,” it wrote in a letter to NCDOT. The construction of a turn lane greatly eased congestion, the letter said, adding the roundabout “will not ‘enhance’ the aesthetics at the intersection” and property values of affected owners will be "significantly diminished."

“It’s a colossal mess,” said Chris Crenshaw, who owns Crenshaw Financial Services. NCDOT is planning taking a small part of his property, valued at $1,100, as part of the project. “I think a [traffic] light is doing just fine.”

The NCDOT built the state’s first roundabout in Winston-Salem in 1999. Since then, 323 roundabouts have been constructed by counties, municipalities, and the state. According to Kittleson & Associates, Inc., a transportation engineering and planning firm, North Carolina is ranked third in the nation for number of roundabouts, behind Washington and Florida.

New roundabout meeting

The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, regarding a proposed roundabout on Mineral Springs Road at Pleasant Drive in Durham. A map of the proposed design of the roundabout can be found at www.ncdot.gov/projects/publicmeetings.

The meeting will take place at Story Church, 100 Pleasant Drive in Durham. Interested residents may attend at any time during the meeting hours, as no formal presentation will be made. NCDOT representatives will be available to answer questions and listen to comments regarding the project.

Comments may also be submitted via phone, email, or mail by May 8. For additional information or to submit a comment after the meeting, contact NCDOT Capital Region Traffic Engineer John H. Grant, P.E., at jhgrant@ncdot.gov, (919) 814-4952, or 1561 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC, 27699-1561.

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