Increased Traffic from Chatham County

Guest Post by Joe Baysdon

Chapel Hill, brace yourself for a more than 275% increase in traffic to and from northern Chatham County. Our County Commissioners have opened the floodgates to developers, and within the next ten years, you folks using 15-501 in southern Orange County will share our pain.

The Briar Chapel development, proposed to be built just west of 15-501, 5 miles south of the county line, will be responsible for 55% of that increased traffic. Furthermore, after looking over Newland's (the developer's) traffic projections and speaking with Robert Eby of CCEC, I believe a 275% estimated increase is too low. That's because northern Chatham has several more developments awaiting approval which are not accounted for in Newland's projections. These developments include Booth Mountain and Pittsboro Station. Also, the Obey's Creek development has been proposed in Orange County.

Here's a summary table of the estimated peak driving hour trips on 15-501, to and from Orange County:

from the Traffic Impact Assessment (PDF) for Briar Chapel2004 tripsten year increase not from Briar Chapelten year increase from Briar Chapel2014 total trips% increase8056307792213275%

Newland's traffic projections are concerned only with Chatham County, and to my knowledge, no one from either Newland or the Chatham County Commissioners has spoken to any Chapel Hill or Orange County official. I guess that's up to you folks.

Joe Baysdon is a resident of Chatham County, living halfway between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill. He is the author of The Chatham Shagbark.


Thanks for this information Joe. I am particularly concerned because I know that a good deal of that additional traffic load is going to split off to Smith Level Road. We've seen additional traffic due to the construction and it's creating problems for residents. Smith Level is not prepared for the high speeds of this additional traffic or additional traffic loads.


The numbers I mentioned excluded traffic turning onto and from Smith Level Road. The Traffic Impact Assessment has seperate projections for that. I would expect that the percentage increase would be similar, though.

(I must confess that I frequently use Smith Level Road when visiting Chapel Hill or Carrboro. I'll be moving to western Chatham soon, though; so, you'll have one less vehicle to worry about.)


I have been trying to raise awareness of Briar Chapel's impact on Chapel Hill since 2001. Now that I am on the council I am the liaison to the Chapel Hill/Chatham Co. Workgroup (whatever that is). We had dinner with the Chatham commissioners in the spring, which was discouraging. The CCC laid out their vision for their county and we realized that all the new traffic was going to come through Chapel Hill on the way to work, etc.
What can we do? There does not appear to be a precedent for suing Chatham Co. Could there be a real challenge to the legitimacy of the commissioner from Apex?
We are used to getting screwed by out of town developers but not from as far away as California......

Chapel Hill is not powerless here, because it is the location where people are trying to reach.

The problem is a massive influx of new Chatham residents driving to or through Chapel Hill to go to work, inflicting externalities without supporting their cost through taxes and fees.

Therefore, what can the town do to correct this?

A series of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) techniques may be the solution. In particular, road and parking pricing techniques may be most effective.

First, What is TDM?

From Todd Littman, perhaps the foremost TDM expert in North America:
"Transportation Demand Management (TDM) (also known as Mobility Management) is a general term for various strategies that increase transportation system efficiency. TDM treats mobility as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, and so helps individuals and communities meet their transport needs in the most efficient way, which often reduces total vehicle traffic.

TDM prioritizes travel based on the value and costs of each trip, giving higher value trips and lower cost modes priority over lower value, higher cost travel, when doing so increases overall system efficiency. It emphasizes the movement of people and goods, rather than motor vehicles, and so gives priority to public transit, ridesharing and nonmotorized travel, particularly under congested urban conditions."

Chapel Hill and Orange County may have the ability to affect commuting behavior from Chatham if they change the price of commuting to Chapel Hill from Chatham.

See Victoria Transport Policy Institute's
Road Pricing page

and Parking Pricing:

UNC sells parking passes to its lots in Orange County. If the town passes a $3 per day of use tax on UNC passes issued to residents of Chatham County , that raises the price of commuting by roughly $750 each year.

By using the collected fees to fund part of fare-free bus service into Chatham, many drivers could likely be diverted.

The town could also invite Chatham to join the Chapel Hill Transit funding relationship, and use the money to fund routes running from Chatham into Chapel Hill.

(Note: TTA cannot provide service to Chatham County as Chatham does not contribute to funding of TTA services.)

Peak direction flow tolls (north in A.M., south in P.M.) would also raise the cost of the Chatham to Orange commute. (Buses and vanpools would of course go through for free)

The important thing to remember here, though, is that we DO want workers and students from Chatham in Orange County, spending their dollars and contributing economically, socially, and culturally to our community. We don't want their additional traffic if we can prevent it.

The key is to disentangle the thing we don't want (mind-numbing traffic) from the thing we do want. (Chatham residents' participation in work and daily life in Orange County)

It's simple in concept, though difficult to execute- if you can make crossing the county border more expensive by car and provide effective alternatives, traffic can be mitigated to a reasonable degree.

Whether or not these tools or the threat of their implementation could be used to affect development in Chatham County is another story. There's a lot of potential for intercounty political acrimony and unintended consequences.

An interesting post Patrick. But it would seem to make more sense -- if we're talking abstractly here -- to first set in motion a series of changes that would raise the cost of driving to UNC (by $750, or whatever) on people who already live close by, in Chapel Hill, and who already have access to a free transportation system. A UNC nurse's assistant who lives in Silk Hope can be excused using a car to get to work; the cardiologist he assists, who lives in The Oaks, has much less of an excuse for getting into _her_ car.

Many of us have gone on at length on this site about how an increasing number of people who work in Chapel Hill, especially at the University, can't afford to live here and must live elsewhere -- in places like Chatham and Durham counties, even Alamance. If their work schedules and shifts don't fit whatever transportation schedule gets worked out for a theoretical new transit system into Chatham, is it your position that such workers who live in Chatham ought to be doubly punished (for having to move out of town, and then having to pay more fees and, perhaps, even a toll) because they don't make enough money to live close by the university? And then, is it your position that those who do make enough money to live close by the university, in town, and who still choose to drive their cars to work, should be rewarded?

(The reward coming in the form of Chathamite dollars and contributions "economically, socially, and culturally" to Chapel Hill. How gracious of Chapel Hill!)

My point is not that there isn't anything wrong with addressing the transportation issues brought on by development in northeast Chatham, which are knotty. It's right for you to offer some solutions. It's just that the issue is too complicated to solve by building a fort around Chapel Hill. I suppose I'm highlighting one of the unintended consequences you mention. (Or, perhaps it's intended?)

While we're at it, it makes no sense to single out Chatham County without addressing the development plans that Durham County has for the borderlands between Chapel Hill and Durham, which I've harped about on this site to no response.

Don't forget Orange Co residents Duncan--we don't contribute to the fare free bus system but some like, me, benefit from it daily.

Let's also remember why people, whether they live in town or in the county, drive--despite the very high cost of parking on campus. They may drive because:
1. They have kids or other responsibilities that may require them to leave campus, semi-quick. (especially to take part in school day activities)
2. They have job responsibilities that require them to come and go, sometimes carrying materials, etc.
3. They work odd hours that aren't accommodated by bus schedules
4. They have a physical infirmity and the bus stop is too far away for them to walk.

My purpose in writing this is not to provide excuses for people who drive, whether they live in town or outside of town. I myself ride the bus and find it much calmer, cheaper, and faster than driving. But I would not like to see the town or the county enact policy (regardless of how much I personally endorse it for environmental purposes) that financially penalizes people who have legitimate needs for driving. This is a policy issue, but it needs to be guided by an understanding of the culture we live in or we end up with more conflict--insiders vs. outsiders, wealthy vs. not wealthy, environmental protection vs. family responsibilities, etc.

Does anyone know how a city, such as New York, handles the financial burden of so many non-resident commuters? Atlanta doesn't handle it too well but I have no idea how other cities absorb such costs.

Terri, when we lived in NY and my wife earned income in the city, we had to pay taxes based on our JOINT federal filing. Of course, they gamed it so it would not be cheaper for us to file separately. After a bitter court case, the City of New York nonresident earnings tax has been eliminated for wages or self-employment income earned in New York City on or after July 1, 1999.

To enter NYC (you pay nothing to leave) via the GW or the tunnels, you pay $6, or $5 during peek with an EZ Pass and $4 off peek, but I'm not sure how much this actually helps the city. They do depend on people spending money while in the city.


We're not far apart, if at all on this issue.

For the record, I was trying to answer Cam's question- what can the town do to influence development in Chatham County? I wasn't trying to wade into whether or not the solution was just, equitable, or politcally feasible. (The post was already long enough!)

You have indeed pointed out one of the sticky wickets, regional socioeconomic equity. I agree that bad development in Durham (and Chapel Hill, and Orange County, too!) are also part of the problem.

And overall, I agree with your suggestion that directing policies towards those with the most opportunity to exercise different transport options (i.e. Oaks/Meadowmont residents) is going to be more effective than comparatively punitive measures directed at those with far fewer options.

However, that approach isn't going to help keep from Chatham County turning into "Cary II: The Sequel" and that seemed to be what Cam was asking about. Is the best way to respond to unsustainable development in another county to ask more local citizens to pick up the slack for bad decisions elsewhere? If nothing else, that seems hard for an incumbent to campaign on.

Most of this issue sooner or later gets back to the consequences of over-subsidizing auto travel at the expense of all other forms of mobility, and the fact that most transportation problems in this area stem from poor, disjointed land use decisions.

At this point, how Durham or Orange gets a say in Chatham or Wake (or vice versa) is simply unprovided for in our current dialogue.

Maybe a multi-county open space compact would help? Density MINIMUMS? That could help some.

You're right, we're not far apart.

I was thinking about this last night during my drive home to Pittsboro, appropriately enough, and it occurred to me that, based on my limited but growing familiarity with both the Chatham County Commissioners and Newland Communities, that neither would be much fazed by a Chapel Hill policy that raised the $$$ burden on individual homeowners. For that reason, I don't see how increased parking fees and tolls will keep the CCC from making a decision in favor of Briar Chapel as currently proposed, or Newland Communities from building it as currently designed.

(In the back of my fuzzy brain, I seem to remember that the new North Carolina Turnpike Authority is only authorized to build and maintain three _new_ toll roads statewide. What are the chances that 15-501 can be put on their list, even if they're authorized to build and operate more? Seems slim.)

There are two goals being articulated on this thread: 1) Blunt the traffic impact of increased development in the borderlands of Chatham County; 2) Induce the CCC to ratchet back on their plan to raze and pave over most of NE Chatham.

It will be interesting to see if we can somehow link the two. It's unclear to me whether the Chapel Hill Town Council will be able to bring much pressure to bear on Bunkey and his gang. Perhaps we could get some of our state legislators to weigh in -- Hackney, Insko, Kinnaird. Surely Bob Atwater, once he gets sworn in (cross your fingers) would join that effort. I'm not terribly clear what _they_ could do, either, but at least they could slow Bunkey down a little.

My pet suggestion is to reopen the question of Bunkey Morgan's legitimacy as a representative of "his" district, which the Chatham Board of Elections punted on two years ago. Is there no possibility of a state investigation? I suppose this possibility has already been explored. But damn, Morgan has been wasting no time during his term, as if he's afraid that at any moment he'll finally be caught out in his lie, and have to relinquish his seat. In the meantime, he's busting his ass to get the whole county watered and sewered whether it makes sense or not. He's no dummy.

In the past, Chatham County Commissioner Margaret Pollard has expressed a strong interest in providing bus service to parts of Chatham County. Most likely, such service would only be viable in northern Chatham. Though her term is office will soon be over, she probably has some ideas of how this might work for Chatham.

And Cam, there was a challenge to Bunkey Morgan's residential status before the 2002 primary, but our local election board let him slide. But it'll be lovely to turn him out in 2006!

Having fought the losing battle against the widening of 15-501 bypass a while back, I'm a bit surprised by the the assumption that most of the traffic from Chatham is going to UNC. As someone who tries daily to just get onto 15-501 just before the 54 exit, I can vouch that an awful lot of people are going to Raleigh or RTP, as well.

One thing we asked was for Chatham to widen a road such as Jack Bennett road so that people could have a straighter route to the Triangle, but Chatham simply refused.

I can't help thinking that the pain is just going to have to get so bad that Chatham residents demand better access.

I'm not arguing against any of the proposals posted so far - but I think that there are more issues.

And, Duncan, I'd be perfectly happy if UNC wanted to move some of its *jobs* to Chatham. You think we "rich" Chapel Hillians like the mess that UNC is making? And, FYI, some of us are old, not rich, and moved here when we could still afford to. So there!

Wow, that's awfully aggressive, George. I'm left almost speechless, except for this: your momma.

(Learn to read, you old, poor, well-situated fart. Don't put words into my mouth, you decrepit, not-rich geezer with great foresight.)

Terri, I offer a nod to your comment about the various reasons people drive. I bike or bus to campus daily, and the bus schedule is a constant issue for many of my graduate student classmates who have evening classes. Many of the buses just don't run that late (like, past 8:15). It's a major hassle, especially when you're thinking about safety in addition to transportation. People end up doing weird things like driving to a park and ride on the other side of town just so they can take a late bus back to their car.

I know that UNC won't give parking permits to students who live within 2 miles of the bell tower. Do they this same rule for staff? Or at least staff who work 8-5 shifts?

If Chatham residents have enough disincentive to drive to Chapel Hill, will the sprawl just head west out 54?

Brothers and sisters, can you spare a fiscal policy wonk? The Booth Mountain proposal has based its fiscal impact analysis on the study done by Newland Communities for Briar Chapel. If that study is to be the benchmark for future development in Chatham, I'd like for it to be correct.

I'd appreciate it if someone with more expertise than I could take a gander at that proposal for Booth Mountain and give me some pointers on its strengths and weaknesses.

I know this request is only tangentially related to traffic impact, but if you're interested, please post a comment here or email me via my shagbark homepage.

(You can access the Booth Mountain proposal from this page:


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