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Estes Drive Connectivity Project still underway, not to be completed until summer 2023

A road sign indicating the detour route on W. Estes Drive, pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.

The Estes Drive Connectivity Project, which involves closing portions of westbound Estes Drive, is not likely to be completed until the summer of 2023.

Estes Drive currently has eastbound-only traffic from Somerset Drive to Caswell Road. Westbound traffic is being redirected to Franklin Street and Weaver Dairy Road.

The Town began work on the project in March and closed parts of Estes Drive to westbound traffic in April. 

The Estes Drive Connectivity Project is a multi-million dollar project aimed at increasing biker and pedestrian safety. This project includes the addition of raised and protected bike lanes, a sidewalk on the south side of Estes Drive, a 10-foot multi-use path on the north side, high visibility crosswalks and turn lanes at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

The construction of the Estes Drive Connectivity Project has been inconvenient to nearby residents, said Tab Combs, a research associate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC. 

However, she said the end result of the project is the most important thing.

“I think in the end, if you think about the decades of inconvenience that people who get around by foot and bike and bus in this town have faced, this is small potatoes,” Combs said.

John Rees, the president of the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill and a member of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission, said the connectivity project is a fundamentally different approach to cyclist safety than other Town projects.

"It’s a lot safer and a lot more likely that parents of children and families will use facilities like that,” Rees said.

While visible work seems to have slowed down, the Town said this is largely due to construction on utilities.

Rees said the amount of relocation of utilities involved in the project and the drawn-out timeline is to be expected.  

“I’ve learned even the most simple projects can take a long time,” he said.

The Town approved traffic slowing devices such as speed bumps and speed signs, as well as pedestrian-activated flashing lights. 

Although the project has been in the works for years, the construction comes after a series of accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists, including two middle school students who were hit on Estes Drive in December and seriously injured.

The Town said in a Feb. 16 email update that it wanted to acknowledge the Dec. 31 crash on Estes and Caswell and the multiple subsequent pedestrian and cyclist crashes.

"The safety of our residents is our top priority, and the driving force behind this construction project; we share the frustration that the project has taken so long to get started," the email said. 

Brad Johnson, the transportation director for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the buses leaving Estes Hills Elementary School and Guy B. Phillips Middle School — two schools on Estes Drive — have been delayed about 10 minutes as they have to reroute through neighborhoods. However, he said he does not feel the construction has had a major impact on school buses.

“The Town of Chapel Hill has been tremendous as a partner with us in our efforts to make sure children get to school safely and on time," Johnson said. 

Combs said this project is a step toward connecting safe pathways for pedestrians and bikers. 

“Providing this infrastructure is going to link critical parts of the town and it's going to allow kids to get to and from school safely,” she said.

The Town of Chapel Hill sends weekly updates to the community. These can be accessed on their website or by signing up for the emails.

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