Dependable Erection

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Durham, the East End Connector, and City Council meetings

Ray Gronberg, at the Durham Herald-Sun, saw fit to publish some excerpts from an open letter i sent to City Council earlier in the week regarding the public forum on the East End Connector at Monday's Council meeting.

I think Ray got the gist of my letter about right, but there's a lot of context that was missing. I hadn't planned on writing about this issue here, but now that it's in the papers, let's talk more on the subject. Then, i'll reprint my letter to Council in its entirety.

The East End Connector saga goes back almost fifty years. It's tied in somewhat to the Durham Freeway saga, and the destruction of the Hayti community in the heart of Durham in the 1960s. (Do your own research - here's the page Google returns when you search on Durham Freeway Hayti).
the East End Connector was proposed in 1959. It's been carried on the State DOT books as project U-0071 for nearly 50 years. In 1982, the NCDOT conducted an Environmental Impact Study required for construction of the EEC, and also began purchasing some of the necessary right-of-way to build the road. I have no idea why the road wasn't constructed at that time. I was still living in New York and had no first hand knowledge of the issue, and damned if i can find anything on line. There doesn't appear to have been an organized resistance to the EEC, just that it didn't get built because NCDOT had other priorities.

Fast forward a few years to the 1990s. NCDOT has a rather large sum of money to build urban loops around qualifying cities, and embarks on several rather large and ambitious projects (Think I-540 around Raleigh/Cary). In Durham, they come up with an idea called the Eno Drive, which met with major opposition because 1) it did little to address the real traffic needs in Durham, which are a lack of north/south arteries; and 2) it threatened the environmentally sensitive areas around the Eno River, which have been preserved piecemeal over the past 4 decades by a strong community effort spearheaded by the Eno River Association.

This appeared a classic case of an immovable object (community opposition to Eno Drive) and an irresistable force (NCDOT's desire to build Eno Drive.) Around late 2000, early 2001, a new idea was placed on the table. I became aware of it through Caleb Southern, and the website. is no longer an active site, but Google cache and the WayBack machine can both take you there. I believe the idea of creating a differently oriented Durham Loop originated with Caleb, and i certainly give him credit for it, but if someone else started the ball rolling, drop me a line.

The idea here was that by reviving the East End Connector plans, a loop could be created around Durham that ran from I-40 and NC 147 at the southeast corner, up to US 70 and I-85 at the northeast corner, across to I-85 and US 15/501 at the northwest corner, and down to I-40 and US 15/501 at the southwest. All that was needed was the mile-long stretch of highway, which had been on the books for 40 years at that time, and for which NCDOT had already done much preliminary work, and purchased much of the right-of-way.

It took a while. There were development interests with a financial stake in original Eno Drive plan, which would have run from I-85, east of the US 70 interchange, across northern Durham County, reconnecting with I-85 west of the Cole Mill Road interchange. But a huge coalition eventually developed, including business, environmental, and urban residential interests, in support of the East End Connector. In late 2002, Durham Mayor Bill Bell brokered the "great compromise" between all of these interests and the NCDOT. (Again, do your own research. Here's the google page for "east end connector" durham compromise)

Under the terms of the compromise, NCDOT would move the EEC to the top of the priority list for projects in Durham County, and fund it under Loop program. Then improvements would be made to US 70 in the general vicinity of the EEC interchange. Finally, a section of the original Eno Drive, now called the Northern Durham Parkway, connecting I-85 and US 70 with Roxboro Road in north Durham, in the vicinity of Infinity Drive would be built.

The advantages to the community at large were obvious: better north/south connectivity, economic development in a geographic region of the county that had been left behind, cleaner air as a result of a more freely flowing traffic pattern. In my Duke Park neighborhood, as well as other urban neighborhoods, the heavily trafficed corridors of Roxboro and Mangum streets, Duke and Gregson Streets, and Avondale Drive and Alston Ave., would see eventual reductions in traffic of up to 25,000 vehicles per day.

NCDOT has been proceeding apace with EEC plans. (Apace for EEC may be somewhat different than for you or i. First, the EEC was left out of the 2005 Transportation Improvement Plan [TIP], and only in 2006, after a concerted, vocal effort, was it restored). Federal law requires the NCDOT to conduct public hearings on a number of alternative routes, which the NCDOT has been doing over the past 6 months. An environmental impact statement must be delivered in 2008, and right-of-way acquisition will take place between 2008 and 2010.

Which brings us to where we are today, or at least where we were before Monday's City Council meeting.

In the context i've described above, i was asked by a number of people to remind Council of the support that the EEC has among the broader community. I assumed, perhaps naively, that this support should be taken for granted, and i prepared remarks which, while nominally supporting the EEC, called attention to traffic issues in my neighborhood which the EEC will eventually solve, but which require more immediate solutions.

I was therefore particularly surprised to see a large and vocal crowd in opposition to the EEC at Monday's hearing. The common element in their opposition was that their neighborhood would be destroyed by this highway, and that they had until now not been given any notice about this road.

I take these folks at face value, and assume their presentations were made in good faith.

My concern and objections lie with City Council. Council member Howard Clement, for example, played up the racial nature of the dispute (all of those who spoke against the EEC were African-American, all of those, including myself, who spoke in favor were white.) and, in introducing a proposal to establish an "ad-hoc committee" to establish a new consensus about the East End Connector, conveniently ignored the role he himself played in moving the EEC up the priority list. A June 27, 2002 Herald-Sun article contains the following:

Supporters of the East End Connector, a road that has been on the books since before the Durham Freeway was conceived and is now touted as a replacement for the controversial Eno Drive, have "inundated" Durham elected officials with e-mails urging construction of the road, said City Councilman Howard Clement.

. . .

Clement, who attended the TAC meeting but does not serve on the committee, said the project needs to move forward.

"I don’t want to see this just sit there. We have to grease it," he said. "I have a stack of e-mails."

Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who took full credit for the "compromise" of 2002, touting the EEC as one of his accomplishments when he sought re-election in 2003, similarly acted as though he had never heard of the road during Monday night's session.

It's entirely possible that the community most directly affected, by loss of home, business, and property, was never invited to participate in the discussion that led to the 2002 compromise. If that's the case, it would certainly have been appropriate for those members of Council who were vocal advocates of the EEC in 2002, and active participants in the development of the compromise, to have acknowledged their roles. Both Mr. Clement, and Mayor Bell, as leaders in the African-American community in Durham, could have and should have spoken to defuse the racial tensions created during the Council session. They could have and should have acknowledged their roles in making the EEC a high priority, and credited the diverse coalition of interests which they helped bring together five years ago. They could have, and should have taken responsibility for and apologized to any members of the community who were left out of the discussions five years ago. They could have, and should have, restated their positions that the EEC will be overwhelmingly beneficial to the greater Durham community, as they claimed five years ago.

They chose not to.

Below are the emails which i sent to Council, and were published on both Duke Park and Inter-Neighborhood Council listservs addressing this issue.

Mr. Mayor and City Council members,

I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to speak once again before you to the issues of traffic calming and pedestrian safety in the Duke Park neighborhood, and their relation to the construction of the East End Connector, between US 70 and NC 147 in eastern Durham County.

I must state that I was both surprised and disappointed at the nature and substance of the discussion on Monday night.

When I am privileged to speak for the Duke Park neighborhood, I am speaking for an ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse neighborhood of over 750 homes, through which pass three major gateways to downtown Durham: Washington Street, Roxboro and Mangum Streets, and Avondale Drive and Alston Avenue.

In short, Duke Park is both a microcosm of Durham, and the front door to the city for many people.

It appeared that I was the only person in the room who had a recollection of the 2002 compromise which led to the rejection of the Eno Loop, and the adoption of the East End Connector as the highest priority roadway project in Durham County. My inbox is still full of messages from the period between August 2002 and March 2003 during which this compromise was worked out.

For example, this editorial in the Herald-Sun, from January 20, 2003.

Last year, Durham Mayor Bill Bell worked out what we have dubbed the compromise of 2002. Bell persuaded different groups that are normally opposed on the Eno Drive issue to agree on a schedule for building several traffic projects in the eastern part of Durham. At a recent meeting of the regional Transportation Advisory Committee, several community members expressed doubt that the state Department of
Transportation would honor the compromise.

The DOT could make a lot of Durham residents happy, and help move this process along, if it would send a signal that it will honor the compromise. The final Transportation Improvement Plan, which we hope will include the compromise, still needs final federal and local approval. Local officials also will negotiate the final TIP with the state DOT.

Under the terms of the Bell compromise, the East End Connector, joining U.S. 70 with the Durham Freeway, would come first. U.S. 70 then would be widened to the Wake County line, and Interstate 85 would be widened from U.S. 70 to Red Mill Road.

After those projects were completed, the Northern Durham Parkway (formerly Eno Drive) would be built. The parkway when finally completed would run from U.S. 70 at the Wake County line to Glenn School Road north of Interstate 85, then run along Old Oxford Highway and Snow Hill Road, ending finally at Roxboro Road.

Durham is long overdue for transportation links in this part of the city and county to support industrial and economic development and residential growth. This compromise would get the process started at long last. Durham needs to present a unified front on this compromise, and the DOT needs to honor it.


This news report followed at the end of March:

The Senate bill enshrines in state law a new route, called the Northern Durham Parkway, which was hammered out over months in a compromise between Durham leaders and residents and state transportation planners. The Northern Durham Parkway arcs eastward from Roxboro Road, which bisects the county north to south, turns south to cross Interstate 85 and continues down to I-540.

"Boy, is that great news!" said Ellen Reckhow, chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, when she learned of the Senate vote. Gulley's bill amounts to a list of improvements that will relieve traffic congestion in northern and eastern Durham, she said.

It is to be built in seven segments, in a specific order. The first segment to be built under the compromise is the East End Connector, a one-mile segment connecting U.S. 70 to the Durham Freeway. It would provide a quick route bypassing downtown on the way from northern Durham County to Research Triangle Park and I-40, supporters say.

The bill erases the old, long-resisted route called Eno Drive, which drew a semicircle around the top of the county, starting from U.S. 70 in the east and ending in Orange County in the west. The northern part of Eno Drive went close to the Eno River -- too close for the taste of the Eno's defenders in the Eno River Association, who said the road would harm the river, its tributaries, the park, wildlife and nearby neighborhoods.


As I said, I was completely surprised to hear from an entire community that the East End Connector was news to them. I was further surprised that not one member of City Council, several of whom were part of the process by which the "compromise of 2002" was achieved, spoke to this issue. Is it truly possible that this community was ignored during the creation of "the compromise?" If so, how was that allowed to happen? These meetings went on for literally months at a time. This issue was discussed at City Council, County Commission, various TAC meetings, and in civic and volunteer organizations throughout Durham for much of 2002. It was front page news throughout that time frame. How is it possible that a major stakeholder in the process was not invited to participate?

I was also disappointed to see this turned into a racial issue, and extremely upset to find myself being cast into the role of personifying "white privilege." When I represented the Inter-Neighborhood Council on the Durham Walks oversight committee, my main priority was to ensure that the process was structured in such a way as to enable all of our neighborhoods to benefit from these upgrades, not just those who had the time and resources to successfully petition the city to move up the list. I am tired of and frustrated by a process that continually pits one neighborhood against another instead of identifying our common interests (in this case, making all of our roadways safer for all of our citizens) and making those our highest priorities.

I am disappointed that not one member of City Council spoke to the issue of the compromise of 2002. I know that in addition to the Mayor, several Council members were involved in reaching this consensus. If a major stakeholder group was not invited to participate, someone from Council needed to step up and take responsibility. If the residents of the area to be impacted by the East End Connector were in fact invited to the table five years ago, that needed to be said as well.

Those of you who were on Council in 2002, and worked so hard with the various members of the community to create "the compromise" need to stand up for the work you did back then.

Barry Ragin

(the views expressed above are my own, and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the Duke Park Neighborhood Association, nor any of its

Mr. Mayor and City Council members,

I'd like to add the following article from the June 27th, 2002 edition of the Durham Herald-Sun to my original comments. It needs no further explanation.

Support growing for East End Connector
City officials plan to push for the project, a bypass around Durham

By C.D. KIRKPATRICK : The Herald-Sun
Jun 27, 2002

DURHAM -- Supporters of the East End Connector, a road that has been on the books since before the Durham Freeway was conceived and is now touted as a replacement for the controversial Eno Drive, have "inundated" Durham elected officials with e-mails urging construction of the road, said City Councilman Howard Clement.

Durham elected officials serving on the regional Transportation Advisory Committee asked staff Wednesday to see how it could move on the nearly $90 million project. Elected officials said they plan to push for the project, which at its current planning pace might be a decade or more into the future, if ever funded.

The city’s chief transportation planner, Mark Ahrendsen, said the project was a quality one and that funding has been the only issue for years.

The road would connect Interstate 85 and U.S. 70 with the Durham Freeway, allowing northern Durham traffic to more directly connect with Research Triangle Park or other points accessible by the freeway.

Elected officials asked if the project could replace the western section of Eno Drive. Ahrendsen said he felt the two complemented each other but were not interchangeable.

"I’d be hard-pressed to say one over the other," he said. "I don’t think one replaces the other; they serve different purposes."

Ahrendsen said to move more quickly on the East End Connector, Durham officials have three options: Delay other local projects in the state’s Transportation Improvement Program or TIP, try to find the money in some other way or persuade state lawmakers to unlock money in the Highway Trust Fund. The fund has millions set aside for loop projects around the state, including Eno Drive, and for other projects such as paving dirt roads.

"It’s a funding issue; it just boils down to the money," he said.

Jon Nance, the DOT Division 5 chief engineer, said that the road could be considered a bypass or turnpike of sorts around Durham, which would accomplish some of the same purposes set out for the much-maligned western portion of the proposed Eno Drive, which would run from I-85 at Glenn School Road to Guess Road.

Eno Drive would track the Eno River to its north and I-85 to its south. Many oppose it because it could cut through neighborhoods and could be environmentally dangerous to the Eno River State Park.

"[The East End Connector] is just an extremely expensive project," Ahrendsen said. "[It requires] a new interchange with U.S. 70 … crossing train tracks. It’s still a very important project. It’s just a project competing for very limited dollars."

Clement, who attended the TAC meeting but does not serve on the committee, said the project needs to move forward.

"I don’t want to see this just sit there. We have to grease it," he said. "I have a stack of e-mails."

County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said that the state’s construction funding formula for the various transportation divisions around the state was unfair to Durham because the national travel on Interstates 40 and 85 was counted against it and so the widening projects on those two roads have sapped all the funds for Durham’s Division 5.

The whole state benefits from those interstates and Durham’s other projects should not have to be shelved for funding reasons, she said.

"The TAC has known for a while that the widening projects are sapping up the funds," she said. "It’s because so much money is going for those projects."

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