A plan of action for addressing future traffic jams in downtown Cary has been placed on the shelf – for now.
The Cary Town Council, following town staff’s advice, accepted a report Thursday by transportation experts but didn’t adopt their recommendations to relocate the train station and build a bridge over one of the two sets of train tracks that cross North Harrison Avenue.
“Anytime that you’re provided information about a potential large expenditure like this, timing is critical,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said. “You don’t want to build it too soon.”
Trains cross Harrison between Chapel Hill Road and West Chatham Street about 16 times a day, sometimes causing traffic backups for several minutes.
Train stops are expected to increase to as many as 38 times a day by 2040, according to town staff. If the town welcomes commuter rail by 2040, the crossings could increase by 30 to 68 times a day.
Light rail could cause another 180 stops, meaning trains could stop on Harrison as much as 248 times a day by 2040.
With that in mind, Cary paid $185,000 to conduct a $350,000 study with other transportation agencies to determine the best methods for preventing lengthy traffic jams downtown. Town consultants held public meetings, met with downtown stakeholders and analyzed the engineering possibilities.
The consultants’ report recommends extending the train-stop platforms to adjust where the trains stop – in theory, helping them clear Harrison – by 2020.
The report recommends relocating bus and Amtrak activities from their current location at 211 North Academy St. by 2025.
And it recommends building a bridge for vehicles over one set of tracks – those on the Chapel Hill Road side of Harrison – but not the other. Building a bridge that extends over both sets of tracks would cost more money and would likely limit access to businesses on Chatham Street, according to the report.
The report received mixed reactions from Cary council members.
“I hope we never have to do this,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “I think it would change the look and feel of downtown.”
Not only does the town need to take corrective action, it needs to do so soon, Councilman Jack Smith said.
“It’s not that I like the idea, but I think it’s important … that we’re prepared for the future,” Smith said. “You can't just park (the issue).”
There’s currently no town funding for any of the recommendations in the report.
Smith and Frantz, the only council members vocal about their stances, said they like the idea of moving the train depot instead of building a bridge.
Frantz said it didn’t make sense to build a bridge over just one of the tracks if both of them have the potential to cause traffic jams.
“If you’re gonna build a bridge, build a bridge,” he said.