The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 28th

NCDOT and the Town of Chapel Hill vie over Franklin Street ownership

Outdoor seating has been reduced outside of Four Corners on Franklin Street, as shown on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.
Buy Photos Outdoor seating has been reduced outside of Four Corners on Franklin Street, as shown on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.

Franklin Street may look a little different this year.

The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering taking ownership of Franklin Street from N.C. Department of Transportation following a discussion at their Jan. 5.  meeting.

Franklin Street is currently maintained by NCDOT. If the Town takes over ownership of the road, it would have more autonomy over how the street is used. 

If the Town takes ownership of Franklin Street, it would cost $190,400 annually for general maintenance. 

“One of the big reasons is the Town and NCDOT have different philosophies for Franklin Street,” Sarah Poulton, downtown special projects manager, said at the meeting. “The Town really sees Franklin Street and downtown as a destination. We want people to come to downtown. Whereas DOT’s philosophy around streets is to get people, mostly in single-occupancy vehicles, from point to point.” 

Part of that autonomy would include pushing back the resurfacing of Franklin Street, scheduled for the summer, to allow the extended sidewalks on West Franklin Street to remain. 

Poulton said at the meeting that the extended sidewalks on West Franklin Street will have to be removed when NCDOT resurfaces the road, unless the town takes over Franklin Street.  

Aaron Moody, a spokesperson for the NCDOT, said the department has a contract to resurface in early summer. 

“The understanding the whole time between NCDOT and the Town was that we would allow this use of the on-street space through the time that the contract was coming up to be worked on,” Moody said.  

Moody said NCDOT has met with the Town’s staff to answer questions about maintaining the street.

“This is something that is not unheard of, and something we would work with the Town on if they chose to pursue it,” Moody said.  

Council member Jessica Anderson said she is in favor of the Town taking ownership of Franklin Street. 

“I really think that us taking over Franklin Street is important and well worthwhile for the future vision we want and have for downtown,” Anderson said at the meeting.

Though the extended sidewalks are still up on West Franklin Street, the extended sidewalks on East Franklin Street were removed on Jan. 6. 

These extended sidewalks were first put in place in the summer of 2020 to support the downtown community during the pandemic. 

Council member Amy Ryan said she is worried about losing the extended sidewalks.

“COVID is not going away anytime soon, and I know how important those have been to the merchants and everybody downtown,” Ryan said at the meeting. “I just worry about the implications for the businesses.”

Poulton said sidewalk dining will not be impacted by the removal of the extended sidewalks. 

“There is a perception here that the temporary walkway is the only thing that is allowing sidewalk dining to exist downtown,” Poulton said. “Sidewalk dining is compliant downtown whether the walkway disappeared tomorrow or not.”

Transportation Planning Manager Bergen Watterson said the extended sidewalks have not only created more space, but they have also made the road safer because it has taken away one of the lanes. 

“Vehicle crashes have been down since we installed the temporary walkway,” Watterson said. “Bike and pedestrian crashes have been down.”

However, Watterson said the walkway has led to complaints from cyclists. 

“Before, when it was two lanes in each direction, confident cyclists could take the lane,” Watterson said. “Now that there is just one lane, I have heard cyclists feel more uncomfortable because the cars have trouble getting around them.”

Poulton said deciding what to do about the extended sidewalks is a complex issue, and the town does not take it lightly. 

“We are listening, we are trying to figure out the best way to keep meeting the interest of the downtown community, while also not missing the opportunity to allow DOT to resurface or have other improvements be made,” Poulton said.


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