Drivers taking N.C. 98 from Durham to Wake County have spent more time at stoplights, hitting their brakes and detouring around wrecks in the last few years than ever before.
A recently completed N.C. 98 Corridor study, based on 18 months of research and public input, may offer some solutions.
The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization — a regional transportation board — voted this week to put the plan out for public view and comments. A public hearing and vote to approve the plan are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which plans transportation for Wake, Franklin, Granville, Harnett and Johnston counties, is expected to vote on the draft plan Sept. 19.
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The N.C. 98 study area runs 27 miles from U.S. 70 in Durham County through Wake County to U.S. 401 in Franklin County. More rural sections of the corridor are still two-lane country roads, while the remainder is a busy four-lane highway. Bus service is limited, with stops only on major roads in Durham and Wake Forest, and there are very few safe ways for pedestrians and cyclists to get around.
“One of the things we noticed is that there’s a lot going on in this corridor,” WSP consultant Rachel Gaylord-Miles said. “It changes vastly from Durham to Franklin County, and right in the middle is Falls Lake, so there’s a lot of environmentally sensitive areas that we had to be aware of, parks, trails, greenways.”
Gaylord-Miles noted that the eastern end is more agricultural, and the corridor also passes a lot of schools, churches and shopping centers that generate traffic and congestion. Areas near the lake are popular for recreation, she said.
What could happen
A previous plan already had called for expanding the two-lane sections to four lanes by 2040.
In the short term, the new plan calls for more stoplights, turn lanes and signal improvements. Highway widening, new medians and upgrades in the town of Wake Forest would come later to serve growing traffic and make the area safer.
Those changes also could reduce the number of crashes, especially in Durham County, the report found.
Data shows 23 percent of the 1,907 crashes in the N.C. 98 corridor between 2012 and 2016 happened in a 2.5-mile stretch from U.S. 70 to Mineral Springs Road. That includes three of eight fatal crashes, it said.
Rear-end crashes comprised 37 percent of all crashes throughout the corridor, and three fatal crashes involved pedestrians or cyclists.
Traffic data shows congestion has worsened since 2010, especially from the N.C. 50 intersection in Wake County to Franklin County. Drivers regularly face long delays near major intersections, the study states.
At the N.C. 98 intersection with Six Forks and New Light roads, for instance, the delay averages over 55 seconds during the morning commute and 76 seconds in the evening. The longest wait — over 105 seconds — is for eastbound evening traffic on N.C. 98, it shows.
More people are coming
Meanwhile, the population around the corridor is growing.
Since 2000, 290,000 people have moved to the corridor, the report found, and another 50,000 people could join them by 2040. Retail is popping up near N.C. 50, just east of the Durham County line, but more is coming to Wake Forest, as are more apartments and offices, the report said.
“This population growth could equate to 20,000 new housing units, 17,000 new jobs and an additional 1 million square feet in commercial office space, with most of that job growth being in the eastern segment,” the report said.
Falls Lake is a buffer, a recreation destination and a watershed that serves a half-million Wake County residents. Gaylord-Miles noted that section of the N.C. 98 corridor could benefit from alternative intersection designs.
A quadrant design, for instance, is proposed at the Patterson Road/Sherron Road intersection with N.C. 98. It would require a new road to be built between Patterson Road and N.C. 98, west of the existing intersection (see graphic above).
Drivers who now turn left from or onto N.C. 98 would take the new road instead and then connect with either Patterson Road or N.C. 98 at new intersections. A similar design could be used at Jones Dairy Road in Wake Forest.
Bikes and pedestrians
The report also recommends more safe crossings for pedestrians and multi-use paths for pedestrians and cyclists traveling the corridor through the Falls Lake area. Two key areas recommended for multi-use paths were from Sherron Road to Kemp Road, which also could be used by Neal Middle School students, and from Old Creedmoor Road to Stony Hill Road.
Money to make the corridor improvements could come from several sources, including local and state funding, grants and developers interested in building future projects.
Three plans already have been submitted to the N.C. Department of Transportation for funding: highway improvements from Old Creedmoor Road to Six Forks Road, an upgraded intersection at Six Forks Road, and a plan to widen N.C. 98 from Junction Road to Lynn Road and add a new median, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, better transit stops and traffic signals.
DCHC-MPO board members emphasized that better transit and pedestrian and cycling facilities should be a key consideration in future projects.
The corridor could pilot a project that builds more multi-use paths and encourage more people to walk or bike, Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said. A number of cities are separating bike lanes from traffic to make cycling safer, she said.
Multi-use paths have their own issues, such as conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians, Chapel Hill Town Council member Michael Parker said. He encouraged a closer look at transit options to ease congestion and move people through the corridor more quickly.
The draft N.C. 98 Corridor plan calls for a range of upgrades to ease traffic congestion on N.C. 98 from U.S. 70 in Durham to U.S. 401 in Franklin County, and to make the entire corridor safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
The plan can be reviewed at nc98corridor.com/plan and comments can be made at an upcoming public hearing or online at nc98corridor.com/get_involved/comments. The public hearing is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 12 in the Committee Room at Durham City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza in Durham.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s vote is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 19 at 421 Fayetteville St., Suite 203, in Raleigh.
The following are possible short-term changes:
▪ New stoplights at Adams Street, Nichols Farm Drive and Olive Branch Road
▪ Four-way stop at Moores Pond Road
▪ Signal improvements at Heritage Lake Road and Traditions Grande Boulevard
▪ Right turn lanes at all four approaches on Mineral Springs Road
▪ New auxiliary lanes at N.C. 50
▪ New right turn lanes for eastbound and northbound traffic at Six Forks Road
▪ New turn lanes at Camp Kanata Road
▪ New dual left turn lanes at South Main Street
Long-term priorities include:
▪ Four-lane urban cross-section with median from U.S. 70 to Sherron Road
▪ Widen to four lanes from Sherron Road to Old Falls of Neuse Road
▪ Wake Forest road improvements from Old Falls of Neuse Road to Jones Dairy Road
▪ Widen to four lanes from Jones Dairy Road to U.S. 401