Transportation hot topic in Morrisville Town Council races

aramos@newsobserver.comOctober 17, 2013 

Morrisville Chamber of Commerce President Carlotta Ungaro introduces the 10 candidates running for Morrisville Town Council during a forum on Monday.

ALIANA RAMOS — aramos@newsobserver.com

  • Morrisville Town Council seats up for grabs Nov. 5

    Mayor: Jackie Holcombe (incumbent); Mark Stohlman (currently serves on council); Narendra Singh

    At-large seat: Steve Rao (incumbent); Pete Martin

    District 2: TJ Cawley; Vinnie Goel

    District 4: Margaret Broadwell (incumbent); Vicki Scroggins-Johnson; Rao Bondalapati

— Talk of the town’s transportation woes dominated a forum for Morrisville Town Council candidates.

While there was some discussion at the forum Monday about gun control, school bonds, the federal government gridlock and economic development, all 10 candidates for the mayor’s seat and council agreed on one thing: Morrisville’s biggest problem is traffic congestion.

Rush-hour traffic commonly backs up as commuters drive through town to get to Research Triangle Park.

While candidates for the Nov. 5 election agreed it’s a problem, they shared different ideas about how to fix it. Some said the town should put more local money into fixing roads; others argued that state lawmakers should send more transportation money to Morrisville. Some said balanced growth and better transit options are the answer.

Many of the town’s most congested – and most complained-about roads – such as Airport Boulevard, N.C. 54/Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville Carpenter Road, Church Street and Aviation Parkway are state-owned and maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

But with limited funds from the state, incumbent Mayor Jackie Holcombe said the town can’t afford to wait for fixes. Morrisville may have to “put some skin in the game,” she said.

“The one thing that is most needed in Morrisville is a sustainable funding plan for all our transportation improvements,” said Holcombe, who is being challenged for her seat by Councilman Mark Stohlman and newcomer Narendra Singh. “We know what’s needed. We’ve known since 2009 when the transportation plan was adopted. ... The only piece that’s lacking in that is a funding mechanism.”

Last year, Morrisville voters approved spending up to $14.3 million in bonds to extend N.C. 54 from McCrimmon Parkway to Aviation Parkway.

The Town Council also approved earlier this year a 2.36-cent property tax increase to pay for road improvements.

The new tax rate is set to generate about $816,000 this year for roads. The bulk of that, about $696,000, will help pay for the $1.2 million design cost of the N.C. 54 bypass. The rest will be used for street maintenance.

“In the next four years, I’d like to see completion of (the N.C.) 54 bypass, which is going to be started shortly,” Stohlman said. “I’d also like to see some improvements to the Morrisville Carpenter Road area between the railroad tracks and the Savannah subdivision. If we can get those two things done, we’ve done a lot of good things at that point.”

More help from developers?

Councilman Steve Rao, who faces a challenge from Pete Martin to keep his at-large seat, said developers should help ease the burden of paying for new roads.

One of the most expensive items for the N.C. 54 bypass project is buying right-of-way access. If developers and property owners would donate land, which is in discussion, it would free up some money, Rao said.

“(We could take) the money that we would have deployed on the McCrimmon extension and create a transportation fund for Morrisville where we can identify other projects,” he said.

District 4 incumbent Margaret Broadwell, who faces challengers Vicki Scroggins-Johnson and Rao Bondalapati, said she doesn’t think the town can build enough roads to alleviate all traffic congestion, but it has made strides.

“We’ve already laid grounds for and improving some of the road infrastructure,” she said. “I think the difficulty will be during that transition period when the roads are being constructed.”

But some challengers say the council should be doing more.

Building bigger and wider roads isn’t necessarily the answer, Martin said.

“I don’t believe that widening our roads, carving up Morrisville like it’s a piece of pizza, will resolve the traffic issue,” said Martin, who advocated for alternative traffic routes, more turn lanes and balanced growth. “What we have to do is give people choices.”

He added: “We need to make certain that traffic not only goes through Morrisville, but that residents live here in Morrisville itself. I have the strong belief that our housing stock needs to be upgraded.”

Singh, meanwhile, said the town simply needs more transportation money, and he would fight for it if elected mayor.

“I will very rigorously seek funding from (the) federal government and of course from the state,” he said.

Scroggins-Johnson also said completing the N.C. 54 bypass is important, but so is securing more state funding.

Other needs

TJ Cawley, who is running against business owner Vinnie Goel for the District 2 seat, said he wants to see more non-vehicle travel options and improved connectability.

Residents should be able to walk and bike from neighborhoods to destinations such as Town Hall, Cawley said.

Goel said he wants to see better infrastructure and water-drainage systems. Some of the town’s roads are flooded during heavy rains and must be shut down.

Bondalapati, vying for the District 4 seat, said while transportation was the town’s top priority, he was focused on getting a charter school in town to reduce commute times for students.

 

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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