Local News

Durham, Chapel Hill drivers upset over proposed redesign of US 15-501

A proposed diverging diamond traffic pattern at the U.S. 15-501 interchange with Interstate 40 has leaders in Durham, Carrboro and Chapel Hill concerned.
Posted 2023-06-14T20:25:38+00:00 - Updated 2023-06-14T22:57:43+00:00

A controversial redesign of a major road connecting Durham and Chapel Hill has many residents and commuters upset.

On Wednesday morning, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) discussed the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) potential redesign of U.S. Highways 15-501.

The proposed change would create a diverging diamond traffic pattern at the U.S. 15-501 interchange with Interstate 40. It would also create a new road connecting Eastowne Drive and New Hope Commons Drive.

NCDOT says a diverging diamond interchange allows two directions of traffic to temporarily cross to the left side of the road. It moves high volumes of traffic through an intersection without increasing the number of lanes and traffic signals. This movement provides easier access to an interstate.

A diagram shows the proposed road alignment through Chapel Hill. Picture courtesy of the town of Chapel Hill.

Since 2005, resident Leif Rasmussen has lived in Chapel Hill.

"It's entirely just car centric, the plan,” Rasmussen said. “Everything about it is just, ‘how can we move cars from one place to another?’ [It’s] just assuming that cars will come and there's nothing we can do about that."

Rasmussen believes public transit, cyclists and pedestrian infrastructure should be part of these early conversations.

"There's this greenway that they've planned across I-40, which sounds great, but there's two places where it crosses free-flowing ramps that go on and off of I-40, and I would not feel safe using those, especially not with a young child."

Several leaders from Carrboro, Durham and Orange County voiced their displeasure at Wednesday’s meeting. Concerns include:

  • Issues with the timing and process of how the proposed changes came about
  • The process of the proposed changes
  • The lack of multi-modal options for buses, bikes and pedestrians
  • The preservation of natural heritage area

“We have been partnering really, really well with NCDOT, and it just seems like something has fallen off the rails here with the disconnect,” said Durham County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs.

NCDOT engineers emphasized the design isn't finalized. It will be used to prepare cost estimates and other factors which go into the scoring process for funding.

Orange County Commission Chair Jamezetta Bedford voiced similar concerns as Jacobs. Bedford said the state and MPO should take time to make sure the projects are done correctly.

"Given the failures we've had with [the] light rail, to set ourselves up for a major change being perceived as a failure by the public just will really continue to disillusion them in our process," Bedford said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger – who is part of the MPO – called for a meeting with NCDOT leaders, which is in the plans.

The MPO has scheduled another meeting on June 27 to discuss the proposal with NCDOT leaders.

“We've been doing a 15-501 corridor study to understand the needs, the reasonings, what's the future supposed to look like,” Hemminger said.