Plans are nearly complete and contracts could be signed this summer to relieve congestion and confusion at one of the town’s busiest intersections.
Changes planned for the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Boulevard intersection could cost $2.8 million. The state Department of Transportation has agreed to reimburse the town for nearly $2.2 million when funding becomes available in 2018, said David Bonk, the town’s transportation director.
Fordham Boulevard is a state-maintained federal highway.
The Town Council has directed Town Manager Roger Stancil to begin negotiating with surrounding property owners to get the necessary rights of way and easements. The Ephesus-Fordham intersection will be expanded and changed to include bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks with pedestrian push buttons.
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New, concrete medians will prevent drivers heading east on Ephesus Church Road from turning left into Rams Plaza. Instead, drivers coming from UNC and points west would drive through the Ephesus Church-Fordham intersection and take the existing service road directly into Rams Plaza. They also could turn right onto Ephesus Church Road and left on Legion Road to access Rams Plaza from the rear.
Drivers coming from Durham would be able to turn left at the existing U.S. 15-501 superstreet U-turn, cross the northbound lanes at the stoplight and head south to Rams Plaza on a redesigned service road. Drivers who want to reach McDonald’s and other businesses north of the intersection with the service road would make a U-turn at the light and two quick right turns onto Europa Drive and the service road.
Once drivers leave Rams Plaza, they could go east by taking a right on Legion Road and a left on Ephesus Church Road at the stoplight. Drivers heading north or west could take the existing right onto Ephesus Church Road or use the service road to reach U.S. 15-501 North toward Durham.
Drivers heading south toward Carrboro could leave via the right turn on Ephesus Church Road and take a left at the Fordham Boulevard stoplight.
Concrete medians also would block through-traffic and right turns onto the service road in front of the Eastgate BP station. Drivers could still use the other side of the service road – in front of the former 501 Diner – to turn right into Eastgate shopping center.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt suggested also extending the bike lanes or adding “bike boxes” to the Ephesus Church-Fordham intersection. Bike boxes are designated areas where cyclists wait at traffic lights; the goal to is make them more visible to drivers and give them a head start at green lights.
Another concern is how long pedestrians will have to wait to cross at the traffic light, council member Jim Ward said.
The town’s goal is to encourage redevelopment of the Ephesus-Fordham district’s aging strip malls and vacant lots. Plans to extend Legion and Elliott Roads and make other changes to Ephesus Church Road are part of future phases, officials said.
The town has set aside roughly $8.8 million in bond money and financing – using Town Hall as collateral – for the new and improved roads. Town officials plan to use increased tax revenues from redeveloped property to repay the debt.
Lance Norris, the town’s Public Works director, said the council could receive a January report on the feasibility of building a pedestrian bridge across Fordham Boulevard.
Chapel Hill developer East West Partners is building two additional roads as part of its Elliott Road apartments project. Town manager Roger Stancil has until Dec. 3 to approve or deny a permit for that project.
One will be a leg of a longer road behind the Village Plaza area shops, linking East Franklin Street to Elliott Road near the Burger King. The other road will run immediately east of the former Red, Hot and Blue restaurant and connect the new road to Elliott Road.