On that glorious Sunday after Hurricane Matthew, Becky and I finally resumed walking in the daylight.
Summer heat had pushed our four-mile round trips to the far end of our road back to dusk or later. Once the heat broke weather, travel, and events had kept us on the stationary bike rather than the road.
Finally back in the light, we delighted in seeing the small waterfalls of runoff from the soaked fields, the resulting rapids in the streams, and wooly worms, one black, one Trump colored, and one mixed.
We saw something less pleasing. A set of tire tracks appeared on the shoulder of the road, the evidence of a most likely intoxicated driver.
For an eighth of a mile, the car had remained entirely off the surface, appearing to lose four cans of Bud Light and a remarkable quantity of fast food mustard packets. Not long past the shattered remains of a mail box, only the passenger side tires left marks in the grass beside the road.
A couple of hundred yards later the parallel tracks resumed, veering dangerously close to the ditch before cutting the corner of an intersection, knocking the road sign backwards.
Seeing the out-of-control path along our little country road reminded me of an endemic problem just south of Hillsborough.
A vital connector from South Churton Street to N.C. 54 west of White Cross, Orange Grove Road carries a significant amount of traffic every day. An overpass takes the route over I-40 just north of the roadway serving Grady Brown Elementary School and Cedar Ridge High. The overpass contains no accommodation for pedestrians nor do sidewalks exist on either side.
In theory, kids will ride the bus to school, but many actually walk along the side of the road and across the busy overpass without a pedestrian lane.
Despite longtime awareness of the problem, the situation remains.
Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict explained why in an August memo to the county commissioners. To understand, know that the overpass exists just outside the Hillsborough city limits. In 2010, the commissioners had adopted Safe Routes to School (SRTS), which began as a federal program, and hired a consultant. By the time the latter completed his report four years later, however, the specific federal funding had been eliminated.
That put the project into the cumbersome, competitive NCDOT Strategic Planning Office of Transportation process, which favors urban and highway work. The county and Hillsborough each developed their own plans which turned out not to match.
Since the overpass is not in town Hillsborough maintains it is a county issue.
The county, on the other hand, does not do sidewalk construction, and sidewalks on either side are required before the overpass can be reconfigured for pedestrian traffic.
Thus, Benedict concluded, the country transportation staff is “at a standstill on implementation.”
When their children are involved, people don’t quit easily. A group called Walkable Hillsborough keeps hope alive for a fix.
Beginning with Walk to School Day held Oct. 5, according to spokesperson Amy Cole, they hope to build local support and gather data with a goal of obtaining commitments for the 20 percent of project cost required from local governments.
Doing that would open the doors to pursue three potential funding sources. Data drives the decision making of the Highway Safety Improvement Plan, making the compilation of numbers on traffic, crashes, and walking versus busing vital. Local support underpins requests for funding from both DOT’s pedestrian and bikes program and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization.
None of this is easy to achieve, of course, but Orange County residents do care about their children’s safety. If the parents of Walkable Hillsborough can enlist county-wide support, I wouldn’t bet against them.
You can reach Art Menius at firstname.lastname@example.org