North Chatham Park Way development continues

Posted 1/13/21

The North Carolina Department of Transportation held a virtual presentation last Thursday to discuss the proposed construction of the North Chatham Park Way, a new north-south roadway to run east of …

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North Chatham Park Way development continues

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The North Carolina Department of Transportation held a virtual presentation last Thursday to discuss the proposed construction of the North Chatham Park Way, a new north-south roadway to run east of Pittsboro.

The project is under development by NCDOT in partnership with the town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park Investors.

Plans for the 2.7-mile road have been coming together for years. Its potential was considered as early as 1994 in a NCDOT feasibility study and in 2015 and 2019 as part of Pittsboro’s comprehensive transportation plan and a second NCDOT investigation.

Already, a section of the road has been constructed between U.S. Hwy. 64 and Suttles Road. North Chatham Park Way would extend the highway to U.S. Hwy. 15-501.

“All we’re doing right now is just trying to connect where it currently terminates in the middle section and then trying to work our way north through all the village centers and then back to 15-501 on the north side of town,” Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said.

The extension is necessary to continue ongoing work to mitigate traffic issues through downtown Pittsboro, according to NCDOT community studies expert Jamille Robbins, who led Thursday’s presentation.

“With new development in the area, traffic has increased, and creates mobility challenges in downtown Pittsboro,” Robbins said.

Anywhere from “8,400 to a little over 18,000 vehicles per day” travel through Pittsboro on U.S. 15-501, according to Robbins. But those numbers are projected to double by 2045, severely straining the current roadway system’s capacity.

Construction is expected to begin soon and complete by 2023, but NCDOT must still navigate a series of hurdles.

“NCDOT’s public hearing, or public meeting, was part of the process to show that we’ve got the broad brushstroke design,” Kennedy said. “We know kind of where the roads are going to go, but now we’re getting into the actual design of it, we’re looking at the complete streets. And so NCDOT’s purpose was to vet that design and see if they are allowed to continue to move forward with ultimate construction of that road.”

The project is estimated to cost just more than $18 million, but according to Kennedy, the town and Chatham Park are not likely to be responsible for contributions to funding, despite their partnership with NCDOT.

“As I understand for this project, this is just NCDOT-funded,” Kennedy said. “There’s no town dollars or Chatham Park dollars being inserted to build this road for Chatham Park Way North. But again, that’s just the best of my knowledge.”

As per the state’s funding system, money will be allocated in a 10-year cycle.

“Years one through six are funded and are actually going to go to construction,” Kennedy said. “Years seven through 10 are funded, but they aren’t necessarily going to go under construction. They are just earmarked for funding, but (NCDOT) is not actively taking over those projects.”

Right now, the North Chatham Park Way project falls within one to six years and is therefore under consideration for government funding.

“So, they’re going to go through environmental work,” Kennedy said, “they’re going to go through right-of-way acquisition and all the other things that have to be done in order to get that road built.”

Project commencement also behooves NCDOT to entertain public comments on the roadway project, a process it began immediately following the virtual presentation. Many commenters expressed concern that North Chatham Park Way would negatively impact the surrounding environment. But Robbins assured listeners that results from environmental impact studies would dictate the project’s continuation.

“Throughout the development of this project, every effort was made to avoid and/or minimize impact,” he said. The proposed roadway’s location was chosen to “minimize the extent to which properties were divided,” and no wetlands are to be impacted. However, 801 linear feet of stream will be affected by the new road.

Kennedy, too, was confident such concerns would be allayed in coming weeks as the project steps through each phase of development.

“It is our, Chatham Park’s and the NCDOT’s full intention to go through all the proper procedures,” Kennedy said, “trying to have stakeholder meetings like we had … to demonstrate that any concerns that may be had will hopefully be alleviated.”

He emphasized that North Chatham Park Way, and eventually the entire completed Chatham Park Way, are not frivolous measures, but essential infrastructure to accommodate an aggressively developing town.

“It’s going to be much needed in the future,” Kennedy said. “I mean, there’s going to be a lot of travel demand and keeping it off some of our more local streets will be beneficial.”

The project is preemptive, Kennedy said, but its value will become manifest in coming years.

“Too often, people have developments go in and then they realize they need road improvements,” he said. “And so, I hope what this road presents is that there was some foresight applied to it — we knew the demand was going to come in and rather than bog down all the local roads in and around it, the road went in first, the development followed it and everything was as seamless as we could make it.”

Even in the short term, though, before Chatham Park development significantly swells Pittsboro’s population, North Chatham Park Way will relieve heavy traffic in the downtown bottleneck.

“Already people talk about the traffic on Hillsboro Street, you know?” Kennedy said. “We’ve got residences on that road and it goes through our narrow corridor of downtown.”

Kennedy admitted that, like with any project of this scale, “there’s going to be some awkwardness there.”

“But rather than stress and overburden our existing infrastructure,” he said, “which is not designed to the same level that is going to carry the capacity that these roads are going to carry, I think it’s going to be a much needed reprieve to have a road like this in place.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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