After months of tip-toeing around Obey Creek traffic and transportation issues, a May 25 NCDOT memo sets the stage for critical Town Council discussions of the “elephant in the room” on Monday night.
The memo, which responds to a council request for a fully signalized intersection across from the Southern Village Park & Ride, illustrates the impacts and trade-offs associated with the project’s 1.6 million square foot density and 16,858 new vehicle trip budgets currently included in the draft Development Agreement.
NCDOT begins with good news. By approving full signalization of the Sumac Road intersection, the town and developer are assured that Obey Creek will have a second fully-functional entry and Chapel Hill Transit will be able to provide on-street or pull-out service for Obey Creek to meet the project’s estimated 300 percent increase in transit.
However, approval of the intersection and proposed density come with significant strings in the form of 28 conditions necessary to attain driveway permits.
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Even with proposed mitigations, the April 2015 Traffic Study projects failing performance for key turning movements leaving Southern Village and Obey Creek. The study does not look at Culbreth Road or the bypass, both of which are red flagged in earlier reports.
Key considerations from the memo:
▪ The projected traffic entering and exiting the development at peak hours requires that there be no turns for 300 feet upon entering Obey Creek on Market Street and Sumac Road in order to prevent backups on 15-501. In addition, a second left hand turn lane will be needed for traffic exiting Southern Village’s Market Street.
▪ To ensure opportunities for future growth, the developer is required to set aside land across the front of the development, affecting key features of the existing site plan including the proposed slip road, Highland Park, pedestrian bridge and more.
▪ In the absence of necessary details, NCDOT indicates that they are unable to comment on internal road circulation or multi-modal functionality – a concern also raised by the Town’s Transportation and Connectivity Board.
Fortunately, by encouraging the town to consider both sides of the road as opposed to a lone development, NCDOT has opened up the opportunity for Town Council to address long-term corridor planning before signing an agreement for Obey Creek.
To that end, council members Harrison and Ward have asked staff and the development team to provide additional information before Monday’s meeting, including an updated site plan, diagram of potential road change and information about internal circulation and parking.
To date, council members have not addressed citizen and advisory board requests to evaluate smaller density, lesser-traffic producing development options for the Obey Creek site. Perhaps , this new information will encourage those council members who have been critical of the size and traffic impacts before (especially council members Greene, Harrison and Storrow) to do so as opposed to looking for ways to mitigate the effects of stuffing a 15,000 pound elephant into a 10,000 pound sack.