Dependable Erection

Friday, November 10, 2006

NCDOT vs. Durham, again

What is it with these folks at the North Carolina Department of Transportation when it comes to dealing with roads in Durham?

It's difficult to catalog all the mistakes we're going to have to deal with in this town for the next generation or so, before "new and better" roads go up.

Some of my favorites are the two mile long stretch of Guess Rd. (NC 157) which was widened to 5 lanes a couple of years ago. About a mile and a half of that, between Horton and Carver, is almost exclusively residential. Yet it was built without a single crosswalk, or other pedestrian amenity for getting from one side of the street to the other. One high school student has already paid with her life for this lack of planning.

The sidewalk to nowhere on the Duke St. bridge over I-85 is a close second. Fortunately, no one uses that, so the casualty rate will probably stay pretty low.

I'm not even going to mention the disasters in waiting that are being built in my own Duke Park neighborhood.

No, let's take a look at the News and Observer today. Bruce Siceloff writes that much of the recent I-40 project in southern Durham has to be redone, and Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett is meting out punishment to some members of his staff:

Tippett issued the state's first comments on the I-40 project since the DOT indicated last week that the needed repairs would cost more, take longer and tie up more traffic than had been expected. The DOT said it was seeking a contractor to replace all the crumbling concrete with new asphalt on the two outer lanes of I-40, in both directions, from U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill to N.C. 147 (the Durham Freeway) in Research Triangle Park.

Tippett said he hoped this work would start next spring and be finished by the end of 2007. In 2008, contractors will add a 5/8-inch layer of asphalt to all six lanes of I-40.

He said the repairs could cost between $18.4 million and $30 million but said the DOT estimated the actual price at about $18.6 million. Of that, he said, the federal government will pay about $14.4 million.

Seth Effron, a spokesman for Easley, said Thursday night that North Carolinians count on the DOT to closely monitor highway projects and public spending.

Officials with Granite Construction, HNTB and the Federal Highway Administration could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The state and federal dollars will be subtracted from other highway funds distributed in DOT's seven-county Division Five, which includes Durham and Wake counties, Tippett said. Ellen Reckhow, chairman of the Durham County commissioners, said at a transportation planning meeting Wednesday that Triangle motorists should not have to pay for the DOT's mistakes. "We're basically paying for the road twice," she said, "and it's not fair."

Some of you may recall that, just a couple of years ago, NCDOT had to delay the opening of of the I-40/I-540 interchange when it turned out the roadbed had not been properly prepared and the highway was not capable of supporting normal traffic loads.

Now they go and let their contractor do a piss-poor job just a couple miles to the west.

Yeah, it's one thing for a few heads to roll. But really, why should the rest of us have to pay for this mistake?



  • Hope you're also aware of the Alston Avenue widening project that is going to have a major impact on the East side of downtown Durham - 6 lanes wide in some spots through a residential neighborhood. It's same-old, same-old up at DOT.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:09 PM  

  • Absolutely. I saw where you(?) reprinted alison's email. i have an email into her for permission to repost to a couple of other Durham lists, and also here. i could probably go ahead and post it without permission, but . . .

    After i posted to the Bike and Ped list a couple of months back about the idiotic design of the sidewalk across I-85 on Duke St., i got an email back from Jon Nance, who's the District 5 engineer, basically telling me that it was "state-of-the-art" design.

    I've got a photo essay abot all of the things wrong with that from a pedestrian safety standpoint that i keep hoping to write up and post to the blog, but life keeps getting in the way. Maybe this week.

    The folks at NCDOT are really in their own world.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 1:23 PM  

  • Yeah, it's terrible - love the way the sidewalk stubs out at the inside of the north-side intersection. It seems never to have occurred to anyone that it's important to have good pedestrian connectivity between south-of-85 and the county hospital/almost all medical pratices in durham.

    Thanks for checking out the blog. I assume you saw the original Alston Ave post with the scans and the email addresses for the DOT. I'm not optimistic that they'll improve things, but it's worth a shot.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 PM  

  • Interesting point. I had only thought about the Duke St. crossing in terms of kids walking between Brogden Middle School and Northgate Mall. People walking from the neighborhoods south of I-85 to the medical facilities a mile or two north on Duke St. are a whole 'nother population.

    Here's Jon Nance's email of July 18, responding to my criticisms of the pedestrian aspects of the Duke St. bridge over I-85:

    I'll simply say that the project does include crosswalks and pedestrian signal heads. The handicap ramps will also be installed where the curbing is depressed for sidewalk access. It is obvious where the ramps go since the sidewalk has been formed around the open areas. Duke Street has one more layer of asphalt to be placed and this will occur in the next 30 days or so. The pedestrian items of work will be completed at or before that time.

    As described, the interchange is rather spread out as it existed before the I-85 project began. The pedestrian movements were designed to reduce the number of free flowing ramps that exist to improve pedestrian safety. This does mean the route is not the most direct one. The plans were also reviewed by the City of Durham during the process. Hope this helps.


    See, the thing is, NCDOT seems to truly believe that their expertise in these matters is beyond question, and that non-experts like you or me, who merely use the facilities that they create, are incapable of rendering judgment as to how well those facilities work.

    Here's a quote from an AP article about a horrific hit-and-run in Denver that left a mom and two kids dead, and their husband and father seriously injured:

    When the city created its 16th Street Mall and popular lower downtown entertainment district, Fabby Hilliard recalls, officials discussed traffic flow and parking at great lengths.

    "We tried to encourage a pedestrian community and keep cars at a minimum. But we haven't been talking about safety," Hilliard, the head of the Lower Downtown District Association, said Saturday. "I imagine we are going to be really looking into it now."


    Yeah, i imagine so. You can't legislate against stupidity, or a criminal lack of connection to the rest of the human race. But i think you can design to mitigate its effects.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 4:11 PM  

  • And their usual response to pedestrians and safety is to keep pedestrians far, far away from cars. As in - you aren't welcome on this facility. Because they only measure the vehicle Level of Service, but don't measure a pedestrian Level of Service, then pedestrian improvements that might limit traffic speed/flow are only seen as 'causing problems'. Little mention of the problems of unimpeded traffic flow - as per the Denver story to mention.

    I used to work up in Central Medical Park (by Stadium Drive.) One of the scariest things I saw during my tenure there (and I saw it twice, with two different people) was an older person on a scooter - puttering up the right lane of Duke Street (because there is no sidewalk). Eek.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:41 PM  

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