Cary considers downtown bridge options for Harrison Avenue

aspecht@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— To alleviate traffic jams when trains roll through downtown, Cary has options.

It could build a big bridge over both sets of tracks that cross Harrison Avenue between Chapel Hill Road and West Chatham Street.

Or it could build a bridge over the tracks on the Chapel Hill Road side of Harrison Avenue.

Those were a couple of the most feasible options presented at a public workshop at the Cary Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. Dozens of people attended the meeting.

The town also held two stakeholder meetings on Tuesday for business owners who might be affected if the town decides to build a bridge. About a dozen people attended, according to Cary engineer Todd Delk.

Cary has partnered with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the state Department of Transportation, Triangle Transit and the N.C. Railroad Company for a $350,000 traffic study in hopes of reducing backups on Harrison Avenue.

It’s unclear how much a bridge would cost, Delk said.

Trains stop traffic on Harrison about 16 times a day. That number could jump to about 50 by 2040 and more than 200 if the town embraces light rail and commuter trains by then.

In addition to renderings of bridges, materials presented at the chamber included sketches of potential upgrades and expansion of the rail crossing.

Renderings showed additional tracks and a wide waiting area with benches.

A computer simulation also showed how traffic would be affected during peak driving hours if Cary doesn’t act to ease traffic by 2040.

Bill Mann, who lives on Hillsboro Street, seemed to favor a bridge over both sets of tracks.

From the looks of materials presented Tuesday, a shorter bridge would “stifle traffic flow” on Hillsboro, he said.

Some questioned whether downtown Cary has enough traffic to merit a large infrastructure project such as a bridge.

“Do you want to completely change the character of downtown?” Robert Keely asked.

Keely said he hadn’t seen enough information to favor one option over another.

“I like the fact that people are thinking about (the traffic) and asking for input,” he said.

Others like Scott Chilcote attended the workshop to find out how the options might affect pedestrians and bicyclists.

“I’d really like to see these changes occur in a way that welcomes pedestrians and cyclists – people who come to visit downtown, not just pass through it,” Chilcote said.

Meanwhile, Cary is in the midst of a push to revitalize downtown. The town is renovating The Cary theater near the propsed bridge project, and plans are in the works for an urban-style park off of Academy Street.

Town staff will consider the dozens of comments collected Tuesday when crafting a proposal by August.

“Keep this in mind, we’re not going to just come up with a design and go out and build it,” said Matt West, a consultant for Kimley-Horn and Associates, a consulting firm hired by the town.

Of course, town leaders could choose to abandon the bridge plans altogether.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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