Study looks at options to ease traffic on North Harrison Avenue in downtown Cary

07/30/2014 11:52 AM

08/01/2014 8:35 AM

A recent study has yielded a plan of action in case Cary ever needs to take drastic measures to alleviate traffic jams on North Harrison Avenue.

In the short term, Cary could reduce traffic backups by working with the railroad companies, including Amtrak, to make slight tweaks to their current operations.

For instance, sometimes the protective railroad crossing arms are activated to block Harrison Avenue even when trains arrive at the station from the north – when they don’t block the road.

“There are some other little operational improvements we may be able to pursue that would help,” said Todd Delk, a Cary engineer.

If those smaller, cheaper efforts don’t work, the town may be able to relocate some railroad operations.

“There is the possibility that we could expand or move the station to the other side of Harrison Avenue … where Hillsboro Street is,” Delk said. “The bus service could still come to the existing depot.”

Town staff got the idea from a resident who attended a public planning workshop in February, Delk said.

“It’s something we want to look into with more detail,” he said.

The idea that’s received the most attention is to build a bridge on North Harrison Avenue over one or both sets of railroad tracks.

Building a bridge over one set – the tracks on the Chapel Hill Road side of Harrison – is the most feasible option, according to the study.

Building a bridge that extends over both sets of tracks would cost more money and would likely limit access to businesses on Chatham Street.

The town would have to elevate Chatham 10 feet to connect it to the longer Harrison bridge, Delk said.

A longer bridge over both sets of tracks “is simply not feasible,” he said.

Cary wants to collect more feedback from residents before compiling the information from the study into a report that the town plans to publish on its website later this year.

Engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates recently completed the $350,000 study. The study was commissioned by the town of Cary, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the state Department of Transportation, Triangle Transit and the N.C. Railroad Company.

The town plans to present the findings at a public workshop from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Cary Chamber of Commerce.

The workshop will be more interactive and informative than the one held earlier this year, Delk said.

“We’ll show a conceptual video that does a fly-through of the corridor,” he said. “We’ll also have laptop stations where you can work with a 3D model of the bridge.

“There’s a lot more detail this time.”

North Harrison Avenue is already prone to small traffic backups because trains stop at the downtown Cary rail station between Harrison Avenue and Academy Street about 16 times a day.

Traffic is expected to get worse in the coming years as Cary attempts to draw more people downtown and local authorities consider expanding rail services in the Triangle.

Cary’s station is already the fourth-busiest in North Carolina and could reach capacity in the next 10 years, Delk said.

The town does not currently have money available to pursue any of the strategies, Delk said.

“We definitely don’t see anything coming before 2020,” he said.

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