Friday, July 15, 2005

Big Box Traffic Jam

This from Durham County, NC:

A traffic study in the hands of the N.C. Department of Transportation estimates that a planned shopping center on the northern edge of Chatham County that could house a Wal-Mart Supercenter will generate almost 21,600 car and truck trips each day.

The study -- authored on behalf of the center's would-be developer, the Lee-Moore Oil Co. -- also says he soon-to-be-widened U.S 15-501 and its intersections can handle the added traffic.


The traffic study's conclusion drew a skeptical response Tuesday from one critic of the project, Chapel Hill Town Councilman Ed Harrison, who contended that commuters are likely to experience a lot of frustration as they travel up and down the 15-501 corridor:

Because of the growth occurring in the corridor, "this could be a messy piece of roadway with a lot of turning movements, including U-turns, and a lot of signals in a short period of space -- as does 15-501 north [between Chapel Hill and Durham]," Harrison said. "It's Chatham's choice how to use the land, but it's a road of at least regional if not statewide significance."
The study also mentions a considerable increase in traffic on a currently local, rural road, which doesn’t sit well with at least 1 local official:

The percentage of traffic assumed likely to use Smith Level Road caught the eye of Carrboro Alderman and mayoral candidate Alex Zaffron, who said it raised questions about the future of a road local officials want kept as a rural byway.

If the developer's assumptions are correct, the 4,320 additional cars that would use Smith Level would push the road's daily traffic load up over 14,000 by 2020, Zaffron noted.

That "could put pressure on DOT to add improvements that are completely outside the scope of preserving it as a rural corridor," he said. "My concern is that pressure is going to be brought to bear that could turn Smith Level into 'Wal-Mart Parkway,' and that is precisely what everyone in Orange County has been working to avoid for any number of years. And mark my words, we will continue to do so."
Now we know this area of North Carolina very well - Go Duke! – and it’s one that is often plagued by with congestion. The 15-501 corridor, between Durham and Chapel Hill, is lined with big-box retail and, as a result, makes the 8 mile trip often take 30 minutes or more. One of the worst stretches is near the shopping center that houses the Chapel Hill Wal-Mart (not a supercenter) where, on weekends, it could take 15-20 minutes just to turn off of 15-501 and park.

Like some of the critics in the story, we are also skeptical of the traffic study, knowing from experience that the consultants developers hire are brought on specifically to minimize impacts. This is why independent consultants are needed and why the residents of in that area of North Carolina should encourage the county to conduct its own report.