Smith Level Road, NCDOT, Reductio Ad Absurdum

On Monday evening, 11/5, NCDOT held a "Citizens Informational Workshop" on the Smith Level Road "improvement" project. Turnout was, to be kind, sparse. Now we enter the "public comment and public hearing" phase, the last stop before the asphalt meets the roadbed. The current DOT project plan for Smith Level (the section between Rock Haven Road and the Morgan Creek bridge) could best be described as resembling MLK Blvd.

Does the Town of Carrboro really want a multi-lane monstrosity within the town limits? Aristotle had a phrase for DOTs proclivity to seek to relieve congestion by adding travel lanes: reductio ad absurdum. At a moment of fatigue (discussion on this issue began back in 1986) the Board of Aldermen gave DOT the green light to continue planning based on the current project plan. Now here we are.

Two actions seem to be required to turn this project from boondoggle to actual improvement:

1. Pressure brought to bear on DOT from state legislative/executive officials on the fiscal absurdity of spending twice as much on a project Carrboro doesn't want, instead of one it does.
2. Pressure brought to bear on the BoA by citizens who agree with action 1 above, and who place a higher value on safety, walkability, and quality of life than an extra lane or two, or three, of asphalt.

A petition to help apply some of the above, and which expresses support for the two-lane road cross section Carrboro fought for "back in the day" is linked below.



I don't have any credentials in urban planning or traffic engineering, but is it not the case that wider roads tends to lead to more traffic?

Traditionally, you address congestion by adding mass transit-- nothing else seems to work.

oh-- and by the way-- I am VERY sceptical about that new traffic loop emerging at 15-501 and Erwin. I appears to ME that it is an overkill "solution" for a relatively minor problem-- the fact that that wasn't the World's greatest intersection.

We'll see, I guess, how it works in the real world.


If you routinely travel the 15-501/Erwin Rd intersection at peak hours I doubt that you would call the level of service there a relatively minor problem. It is rated as the worst intersection in CH. The DOT modeling suggests that traffic will be improved there for the next 5-7 years. After that we will need another solution, hopefully a public transit one.

George, could you please elaborate re. 15-501/Erwin. I haven't made the connection with Smith Level, but then, I'm not the smartest egg in the basket.

D'oh! Like I said; two Toms in this thread. My bad.

For those who aren't familiar with the Smith Level Road challenge, it is under threat from truck traffic using it as a cut through to avoid S. Columbia Street and for all those new residents of Chatham County to get to work at UNC Hospitals/UNC (expecting 20,000+ more over the next 10 years). Smith Level is a small country road with a speed limit that changes at least 4 times from 35 to 40 to 45 back to 40. Average speed is around 55 miles per hour (measured by my own speed) and even higher at times.

DOT has proposed a solution that responds to that level of traffic flow. We, the residents living off Smith Level, would prefer to see a solution that slows down that traffic and/or pushes it back over to 15-501 where it belongs and creates an entrance to town that reflects the town's commitment to non-vehicular traffic.

The town of Carrboro wants bike lanes and sidewalks for the section of SLR inside the town limits. The proposed DOT solution meets the needs of DOT to facilitate traffic flow and, partially the town. But the town also wants what the residents want which is safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

At the last BOA meeting that I know of where this was discussed, Mayor Chilton felt that this was the last chance to get the sidewalks and bike lanes and advocated for compromising with DOT by taking the additional two lanes of traffic. I believe the project is now awaiting public feedback before the BOA makes the final decision on whether to continue pushing back against DOT or capitulate. If you do not want another MLK Blvd. as the entrance to Carrboro and/or if you want children to be able to walk to school, please sign Tom's petition.


I'm not familiar enough with what DOT is proposing for SLR to automatically criticize it. But it sounds an awful lot like what they wanted to do on Weaver Dairy Road in CH - a divided four lane with a wide median, essentially an "outer loop" to connect 15-501 to MLK Jr. Blvd. After a great deal of discussion the CH Town Council was able to get DOT to reluctantly agree to a 3 lane (center turn lane) Weaver Dairy Road with sidewalks & bike lanes. I agree that the major traffic carrier into CH should be the newly-improved 15-501 and that the improvements to SLR should emphasize bicycle and pedestrian safety. I think the Carrboro and Chatham residents need to really mobilize for the fight that is ahead of them.

weve had this fight with dot when i was on the transportation board . they wanted to build a 5 lane highway on smith level we said why when they had 15-501 being a 5 lane i still dont understand why they need 2 4 laned rds going out towards chatham
i can see a3 laned rd up to the highschool and then taped back to 2 lanes with bike lanes and sidewalks. but dot doesnt want to do what carrboro want. this was about 8 years ago when i served on the transit board

I've lived off Smith Level for over 16 years and I drive on this road every day. I can ASSURE anyone who asks that this expansion is unnecessary and undesirable.

Here are some ideas not yet discussed:

1. Put in the roundabout NOW. It was silly to build the intersection at Rock Haven but I guess they had to if they were going to open the school on time. No need to wait for a NC DOT project to fix a critical intersection, just DO it.

2. CLOSE the illegal landfill masquerading as a 'gravel pit' just south of the high school ... OWASA admits they have no jurisdiction over what gets dumped there, adjacent to University Lake reservoir, and the dump trucks all unload there on the 'honor system' ... if you don't believe me, go look for yourself ... lines of 20 and 50 ton dump trucks, speeding on a country road at all hours, and NOBODY says a word about it, WHY??

3. Put a traffic light in at Damascus Church Road, and time it so as to gate traffic to the north ... it will act as a capacity buffer and encourage the use of 15-501 instead of Smith Level as an access to Carrboro, plus improve safety at a nightmarish intersection, do this IMMEDIATELY and watch the improvement in 1 week.

4. ENFORCE the speed limit on Smith Level Road!! We have laws in the country for a reason, let's try a bit of common sense and enforce the ones we have.


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