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Chapel Hill to start construction on MLK Jr. Blvd., North Street intersection

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Signs at the intersection of North St. and MLK photographed on Jan. 12, 2024.

The Town of Chapel Hill begins construction on the intersection of North Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Jan. 8. 

The project will include “squaring up” the intersection at the corners, as well as adding a traffic signal and marked crosswalks, Alex Carrasquillo, the community safety public information officer for the Town, said.

The intersection is near Fire Station One and the Town Hall. Carrasquillo said that, as an entry point into town, the construction is a good opportunity to enhance the appearance of downtown when visitors and community members pass through.

He said another big reason for the project is the construction for the new parking deck on the north side of East Rosemary street.

“The new parking deck will have an exit that sends drivers toward that intersection,” he said. “So this is an opportunity to look at how projects can complement each other as downtown evolves.”

Carrasquillo said lane closures are expected at times when crews are working, but North Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard will remain open to drivers during construction. A short section of North Columbia Street  near the intersection will be closed to drivers during construction, although pedestrians will be able to access the street, he said.

He said drivers will need to use Stephens Street to navigate the North Columbia Street closure, which is the only closure plan for the project.

Sugandh Gupta, a doctoral student at UNC, said construction across town has created an annoyance in getting around, particularly in reaching work.

“I've been stuck there waiting, which has been really, really annoying,” she said. “Especially during critical office hours.” 

Gupta said recent construction in Chapel Hill is sad to see because of a loss of green cover and the poorly coordinated traffic. 

The various construction projects happening across town — from Rosemary Street to Estes Drive — are separate, and all work on their own timelines, Carrasquillo said.

“We all know that it can be slow — it can cause slowdowns,” he said. “But all of the different lane closures and any kind of traffic pattern changes are all done with safety in mind.”

John Rees, a member of the Town’s Vision Zero task force, said despite potential inconveniences caused to people in cars, it is much more important to continuously work to make the town’s streets safer.

The Chapel Hill Town Council adopted the Vision Zero Resolution in October 2021 with the aim of eliminating traffic deaths completely by 2031. The construction on MLK and North Street is a part of the town’s larger Vision Zero Strategy — which aims to eliminate pedestrian deaths and severe injuries caused by vehicles — Carrasquillo said.

“You really have to weigh the merits of, do we want people to continue to get really badly hurt or die on the streets?” Rees said. “Or is it worth inconveniencing people for a couple of seconds while the construction is going on?”

Rees saidcar accidents on MLK Jr. Boulevard have caused many people who are walking or biking to get hurt, and it would be irresponsible for the Town to just ignore that. He also said MLK Jr. Boulevard has been made into a focus area, and the new construction will be engineered in a way that makes it safer for pedestrians to cross.

“The Town really appreciates the community and the University students, teachers — everybody's patience that has to come with making these kinds of safety improvements,” Carrasquillo said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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