State legislators could complicate a proposed “road diet” for U.S. 15-501 Business, which comes up for City Council approval Monday night.
“Nothing would surprise me,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said Thursday afternoon.
Durham transportation engineers have suggested re-striping the state-maintained road (nando.com/151) to reduce its current five lanes to three, with bicycle lanes on each side. The intent is to discourage speeding through a commercial area where vehicles routinely travel well above the 35 mph posted limit.
But a bill in the state Senate, HB 44 (nando.com/1d6), would allow lane reductions to accommodate bicycle lanes only after they are approved by the state Board of Transportation. If the bill passes in its current form, Durham would have to ask state permission for 15-501’s re-laning, according to Mike Kneis of the state DOT’s Durham office.
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“It’s just another step,” he said.
DOT has scheduled U.S. 15-501 Business for resurfacing later this year or early in 2016. State highway officials have told Durham they will restripe the road for three lanes with bike lanes if that’s what the city wants, but they need a decision before July.
A City Council vote on reconfiguring the one-mile section of 15-501, also called Chapel Hill Boulevard, was scheduled for June 1, but council members put off their decision after hearing opposition from business owners who said lane reduction would cut traffic volume and hurt their businesses.
HB 44, titled “Local Government Regulatory Reform 2015,” passed a second reading in the Senate Thursday. Durham state Sens. Floyd McKissick and Mike Woodard said they expect the third and final reading Monday night.
Both McKissick and Woodard voted against the bill Thursday, after Woodard’s proposed amendment to strike the lane-reduction clause failed to win approval. Both Durham senators said they expected there would be changes in its text before the next vote.
McKissick said the bill aroused “a lot of concern” due to various “negative impacts on local government.”
Because the current bill is a revised version of the House original, which concerned overgrown vegetation, whatever the Senate passes must go back to the House for a concurrence vote. If it fails there, a joint committee would try to reach a compromise.
Currently, the bill requires state approval for lane reductions to accommodate bike lanes on state roads inside city limits. Woodard said the measure was first advanced last year, in response to a reduction proposed for a highway in another town that carries a much higher traffic volume than Durham’s 15-501 Business.
Woodard did not know what town that was, but said, “It wasn’t Durham.”