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Tell the Aldermen: Carrboro Needs The Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path

mup-typical-sectionThe town of Carrboro has been working steadily for seven years to plan for the Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path. The greenway would provide a safe way for hundreds of children to walk or bike to not one, not two, but  THREE(!) different schools (Chapel Hill High, Smith Middle, Seawell Elementary)  from the Claremont, Winmore and even Lake Hogan Farms neighborhoods. For so many reasons, which I will detail below, it needs to be built, and Carrboro residents need to let the aldermen know this is the case. You can email the Carrboro Board of Aldermen by clicking this link, right now.

The Recent Controversy

Up until last week, work crews were likely to break ground for construction of the Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path on May 16, 2016, or soon thereafter. Concerns about impacts to the Chapel Hill High Cross-Country (X-C) trail led to lots of complaints to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. I’m not going to recap the controversy any further, but here is a report from WCHL.

Benefits of the Homestead-Chapel Hill High Multi-Use Path

There are several benefits the construction of this greenway offers to the community:

  • A direct, safe route to multiple schools from neighborhoods that have almost 1,000 children who otherwise must cross a dangerous road with 40-45 mph traffic to get to school by bike or on foot today. (The 2014 American Community Survey reports nearly 500 children aged 6 to 11 and over 450 children aged 12 to 17 live in Census Block Group 1, Census Tract 112.02, just north of Homestead Rd)
  • Students can use it for daily transportation, and when they do, they get to hear birdsongs projecting from the canopy and the rustle of rodents on the forest floor, sensory experiences that are blocked by an enclosed automobile or a noisy bus.  When they do, they get to be surrounded by trees rather than motor vehicles zooming by at speeds in excess of 35 or 40 mph.  They get to pass under that road, hearing the rush of the creek, rather than nervously crossing at grade with a wary eye toward aggressive turning movements of hurried parent chauffeurs.  They get to have daily fresh air and exercise as part of their trip.
  • A route for joggers, roller skaters, moms and dads pushing strollers, and people in wheelchairs.
  • A zero-emissions transportation option in an area where the barriers to such options are high.
  • Access to the natural beauty of Bolin Creek and the surrounding forest, including access for community members with disabilities who can’t physically go there today.

 

This is Not  a “New” or “Surprise” Project- The Planning for This Greenway Has Been Going On For Years, With CBOA Oversight

  • After a Greenways Commission recommendation, the Board adopted the Concept Plan on December 8, 2009 (Supported by current CBOA members Gist, Haven-O’Donnell, Lavelle & Slade, votes on page 11 of 14) Dec-2009-CBOA-Meeting-Minutes(PDF)
  • Former Carrboro Transportation Planner Jeff Brubaker, who spent hundreds of hours working on this project up through 2014, stated today:
  •  This direction was included in the adopting resolution: “Adopt the recommendation for Phase 1A and 1B (1B would not extend any further south than Jolly Branch), and Phase 2.” To follow the Board’s direction to stay north of Jolly Branch, the preferred route came to resemble what is shown as Alternative Route 3 (the “green route”) on p. 71 of the Concept Plan (Concept-Plan-BCG-Phase1b).  The merits of the green route were much discussed at Greenways Commission and Board of Aldermen meetings.  The route of the Homestead-CHHS Path closely resembles it, and so it has already gone through significant public vetting.

  • The CBOA unanimously approved an agreement with NCDOT to design the greenway on March 1, 2011. (Supported by current CBOA members Gist, Haven-O’Donnell, Lavelle & Slade, votes on page 3 of 14)  March-1-2011-CBOA-Meeting-Minutes (PDF)
  • On June 9, 2015, in a motion made by Alderman Gist and seconded by Alderman Haven-O’Donnell, the CBOA authorized the Town Manager to sign a contract for Construction, Engineering and Inspection services to build the greenway. It passed 6-0 with all current board members in favor save Alderman Slade, who was absent. Minutes-CBOA-June-9-2015 (PDF)
  • On November 24, 2015, all board members attending the meeting voted together to approve a contract amendment for the project. (PDF) Minutes-CBOA-November-24-2015

 

The Price of Changing Projects at The Eleventh Hour

One of the challenges of transportation projects is that they take time- land must be assembled, engineering work and environmental work must be done, and then finally, construction drawings of a greenway like this one are ready. If you want to make changes to a project, the later you make them, the more expensive it is to make a change, and the harder it is to introduce a change without unraveling much of the work you have already completed because the engineers need to tear up some of their drawings and start over, and then depending on the extent of the changes, all the environmental work must also be redone.

For a project seven years in the making, delaying another year, or frankly, even three to six months –  is simply unacceptable. Asking all the people who participated in prior public meetings, sat in Greenway Commission and CBOA meetings to discuss this project over those seven years, to wait further (or maybe forever) because of concerns brought forward when construction was about to begin, is to say that all the planning that came before matters little in the face of late-breaking complaints. This is a terrible way to make decisions.

Unless the Aldermen want to turn those seven years of public dialogue into a complete waste of time and call into question the validity of all other future public processes the town hosts, the construction of this game-changing project for people who walk and bike needs to get moving.

What The Carrboro Board of Aldermen Should Do

Given how close this project is to being able to be built, and to respect the time put in by ALL citizens who contributed to the development of this project, over the past seven years, and not just those expressing their concerns for the first time in these past few weeks, the first and primary option for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to resolve the controversy should be to see if the cross-country trail can be modified as part of the construction process to eliminate the two crossings south of the westernmost tennis court.

If this cannot be accomplished without also adjusting the greenway design, the town of Carrboro and its taxpayers will certainly incur costs in time and money- the only uncertainty is how much. These costs should be minimized, and Chapel Hill High School should be asked to contribute to the cost of any changes.

The second and less desirable option is to come up with a design that minimizes impact to schedule and budget for the greenway while adjusting both the greenway and the cross-country trails slightly to eliminate two crossings.  It probably looks something like this, where the blue dotted line would be the modified greenway path, and the pink dotted line would be the modified X-C trail. Engineers working for the town would get input from the cross-country coach about appropriate guidelines for the turn in the pink section, and follow best practices used along the remainder of the greenway design up until this point to provide the best geometry for bicycling given a slightly more northern passage. Working within a narrow portion of the already design project to explore solutions that meet the town’s goals and the cross-country team’s goals gives us the best chance to get a win-win without a massive hit to project cost and time loss to completion. (click to enlarge):

There is a proposal on the Facebook page of the Friends of Bolin Creek organization that suggests abandoning roughly half of the design and re-routing the trail towards the north side of the tennis courts, and it should not be considered as a way forward. This is one of those late-breaking changes that is likely to cost a lot more than either of the approaches discussed above, simply because a path so different from what has already been drawn up would contain significantly more re-work on the engineering side. Pursuing this approach is more likely to indefinitely delay the greenway or render it fiscally infeasible, which would be a tremendous failure on the town’s behalf.

In Closing: Carrboro Needs the Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path

In a world where we hear daily about the challenge of climate change, see data showing rising childhood obesity, struggle with equity issues, and parents worry about “nature deficit disorder,” the Homestead-Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path is the rare public investment that can address four such issues at once. Kids get more exercise on their way to school, walking or riding through nature instead of being strapped into a five-point harness in the back of a car. More facilities like this one mean more trips that are emission-free, promoting public health through not only pollution prevented, but also through increased physical activity. Finally, there are lots of people with mobility impairments for whom a multi-use path allows an exploration of nature that a dirt or gravel surface will simply not allow.

Carrboro has made this greenway a priority since 2009, and a majority of the board have cast several votes in favor of it in response to citizen recommendations over the past seven years. It’s time to build this excellent facility. You can let the Carrboro Board of Aldermen know you agree by emailing them when you click this link.

Thanks for reading!

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