A revised plan to widen Interstate 40 through Orange County and update the N.C. 86 interchange could preserve homes in one of the town’s long-affordable neighborhoods.
It’s one of two options the N.C. Department of Transportation has offered in response to criticism late last year from Northwood homeowners and local officials. The previous plan extended Eubanks Road through the neighborhood and took out at least three homes to create a new intersection across from the Chapel Hill North shopping center.
The work is part of a $161 million project to widen I-40 to six lanes from the Interstate 85/40 split in Orange County to the Durham County line. Although a couple of new bridges will be needed, the new travel lanes will fit into the existing corridor so little new right of way will be needed, said Eric Midkiff, an engineering consultant with Calyx.
The public can see the plan and ask questions from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Passmore Center, 103 Meadowlands Drive in Hillsborough. (See project maps at bit.ly/2TTDpWm)
On Monday, Northwood neighbors told NCDOT they preferred one of the two new options that adds a slip, or exit, lane from the I-40 East off-ramp to Eubanks Road, and makes the current N.C. 86-Eubanks Road intersection right-out only with full access for cars heading west.
Drivers exiting the interstate onto N.C. 86 would continue to use the existing intersection.
The plan removes the existing I-40 West on- and off-ramps, and replaces them with new ramps on the west side of the N.C. 86 intersection with Whitfield Road.
Traffic that now turns left from Eubanks Road onto N.C. 86 would have to turn right toward Chapel Hill and make a U-turn at a new, two-lane superstreet intersection at Perkins Drive. A third left-turn lane would take drivers into Chapel Hill North. Traffic heading south to Chapel Hill would continue to use the existing two traffic lanes.
“We can live with it,” said Eugene Casele, whose home is in the path of the Eubanks Road extension proposed last year. “Yeah, there’s problems. Fix the problems short of an Eisenhower-era solution of just build more roads. These are not big-city problems.”
The second option also would add a slip lane to Eubanks Road off the interstate exit ramp, but eastbound traffic on Eubanks Road would have to pass through the neighborhood to a new N.C. 86 intersection at Perkins Drive. Traffic heading west on Eubanks Road would use the existing intersection.
Neighbors remain concerned that construction could damage septic fields, a community well and some homes, Casele said. Some already have had septic failures, he said.
The consultants downplayed those fears, and noted that even with the changes, congestion will continue in the N.C. 86 corridor. Potential solutions are further complicated, they said, by surrounding development and the 410-foot distance between the Eubanks Road intersection and the I-40 ramps.
“The problem that we’re seeing ... and it’s going to get a lot worse in the future is what we call the traffic queues,” Midkiff said. “This is basically the backup of traffic at a signal, and in this case, unfortunately, a backup into the interchange. We’re having the situation right now at peak hour periods where traffic at Eubanks Road is actually backing up past the intersection of the I-40 on-ramp.”
The last 25 years have brought big changes to northern Chapel Hill, replacing modest homes and trees with a busy commuter corridor, new subdivisions and commercial development. Still Northwood’s homes remain modestly priced with single-story floor plans that make it easier for residents to age in place.
Northwood falls under Chapel Hill’s planning decisions, although the residents live just outside the town limits and don’t vote in town elections or pay town taxes.
The latest town-approved project — Carraway Village — could add between 600,000 and 837,000 square feet of apartments, retail, office and hotel space and up to 23 low- and mid-rise buildings at the neighborhood’s entrance. Work on the 55-acre project’s first phase is nearing completion, and the second phase — roughly 6,000 square feet of commercial space — is set for a Jan. 22 review by the Community Design Commission.
Northwood Ravin has not responded to requests for interviews about the NCDOT’s planned road work, but the slip lane could resolve some of the developer’s previously stated concerns about visibility and easy access. It is unclear how the NCDOT road improvements could affect later phases of the commercial construction at Carraway Village.
NCDOT officials expect to have a final plan before buying the necessary rights of way in 2021. Construction is slated for 2023, although the consultants said NCDOT is trying to move up the timeline.